Hearing set for Tuesday to discuss 'smart meter' fires

Public Service Commission schedules meeting after fires are reported in Pennsylvania

  • Jeannette M. Mills, vice president and chief customer officer for BGE, is pictured holding a smart meter.
Jeannette M. Mills, vice president and chief customer officer… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
August 27, 2012|By Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun

The news that a Southeast Pennsylvania utility company has suspended "smart meter" installations following reports that some have overheated and caused fires has prompted the Maryland Public Service Commission to schedule a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the safety of the new meters, which are being installed by utilities throughout Maryland.

"Smart Meters really have me concerned even more so than before," Del. Glen Glass, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, said in a statement Monday. Glass has been an outspoken opponent of smart meters, which many energy customers have resisted because of concerns over privacy, security and the safety of the radio frequency waves emitted by the devices.

Four Maryland utility operators — Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Pepco, Delmarva Power and Light Co. and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative Inc. — are replacing old meters that require manual reading with meters that wirelessly provide real-time data to the energy distribution companies. The companies say the new meters will help ratepayers monitor and control their energy consumption.

Earlier this month, Peco Energy Co., a division of Exelon Corp. that serves the greater Philadelphia region, suspended the installation of new meters while it investigated the overheating of more than a dozen units, news reports said. Peco has installed 186,000 smart meters, the reports said.

Peco said the overheating was likely caused by faulty wiring in homes, not by the meters themselves, according to news reports.

Still, Peco planned to replace some of the new meters — made by Sensus — with devices made by another company, Landis & Gyr, to see if the problem is resolved, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Peco is also updating the software on meters that already have been installed. The software will automatically shut off the meter if electrical problems are detected, the newspaper reported.

Pennsylvania law requires large utility companies to install smart meters. In Maryland, consumers can now opt out of having the new meters installed. The Public Service Commission has not yet determined if Maryland customers will be able to permanently defer replacement of the old analog meters.

The PSC hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. on the 16th floor of the William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore.

The four Maryland utilities have been directed to appear at the hearing to update the commission on the type of smart meters planned or already installed in their service areas, and on whether the companies are aware of electrical malfunctions related to them, according to a PSC notice issued last week.

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

twitter.com/stevekilar

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