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D.C. Legislators Want To Allow Pepco Customers To Opt Out Of Smart Meters

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Pepco says smart meters are cheaper and more accurate, but critics say they pose health and safety risks to homeowners.
Markette Smith
Pepco says smart meters are cheaper and more accurate, but critics say they pose health and safety risks to homeowners.

Two D.C. legislators have introduced a bill that would allow Pepco customers in the city to opt out of the installation of new electricity meters that some say pose health and safety risks. 

Under the bill introduced by council members Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), the city's Public Service Commission would have to devise a means to allow residents to opt against having the smart meters installed in their homes. The meters, which Pepco and other utilities started installing around the country in 2010, automatically measure, store and report a customer's power usage, doing away with the need for a meter reader. 

According to Pepco, smart meters offer more accurate electricity readings, reduce costs and help move the utility towards the goal of a greener grid. Additionally, says the utility, the wireless signal emitted by the meters is no more than that put out by most cell phones or microwave ovens.

But opponents across the country have said that the wireless signals can cause health problems, that the meters can overheat and catch on fire, and that they can lead to invasion of a homeowner's privacy. Various states have heard formal complaints about the meters, including Maine, Hawaii and California; Maryland currently offers an opt-out.

D.C. People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye has twice asked the D.C. Public Service Commission to allow residents to opt out, but the commission has turned her down. Instead, at Alexander's prodding, it launched an investigation in September into the health and safety claims made by opponents of the meters.

Last Friday on WAMU 88.5's The Kojo Nnamdi Show Mattavous-Frye urged the council to act quickly to allow for an opt-out. "Once it's done, it's very difficult to undo," she said of the installation of the smart meters. With their bill, McDuffie and Alexander hope to offer local Pepco customers just that option.

In a statement, McDuffie did not take a position on the health and safety concerns, but rather said that he merely wanted to offer residents a choice, like Maryland does.

“There is a lot of debate about the safety of smart meters; however, I believe this is about giving customers a choice. My legislation provides District residents with an alternative by requiring power companies to offer an opt-out of the smart meter program," he said.

Pepco has already installed the meters in 270,000 homes and businesses around D.C.

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