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House GOP Policy Committee Holds Hearing on Smart Meters

Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) said he requested the hearing based on concerns raised by constituents.

At the hearing, held Monday, Terrence Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of the Energy Association of Pennsylvania testified that smart meter technology will provide customers information on energy use and prices, and that it became a priority of utilities through Act 129 of 2008.  He noted that smart meters are being used throughout the nation, not just in Pennsylvania. Regarding concerns raised related to customer privacy and data security, Fitzpatrick told the committee that utilities can only make that data available to third parties with the customer’s consent.

Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland) prime sponsor of legislation that would remove the language in Act 129 that mandates smart meter installation, said he thought the mandate was an overstep of government to force it on companies and individual consumers.

Representatives of the Stop Smart Meters in Pennsylvania Coalition told lawmakers, that they believe smart meters are not safe and will continue to cause fires.  One witness said more than 30 fires have been caused by smart meters in Pennsylvania, but at least one of the fires attributed to smart meters was found to be an electrical fire in a territory where smart meters have not been installed.

The Committee also heard from John Coleman, Jr., Vice Chairman of the PUC, who provided an overview of Act 129 and the installation of smart meters. He pointed out that the PUC mandated that the installed smart meters must have the ability to remotely disconnect and reconnect power; upgrade as technology advances; and communicate outages and restorations. Coleman also noted, “At a minimum, smart meters must be provided upon customer ‘request’ (if customer pays); in all ‘new’ building construction in a given service area; and to all other customers within 15 years.” According to Coleman, the benefits of smart meters include elimination of meter reading costs, faster detection of outages, reduction in customer billing disputes, prevention and detection of theft of service, and the fostering of innovative products by third parties.

Coleman said the PUC had been notified in 2012 by PECO regarding some issues with its smart meter installation including overheating and property damage that was possibly caused by the smart meter installation. He noted that PECO halted its smart meter installation program while the PUC reviewed the program and how the issue was resolved. He added, “The PUC is not aware of any significant overheating incidents since the corrective actions were implemented.” Coleman concluded, “The PUC is confident that the plans in place to install smart meters…are well-prepared and appropriately address any risk of hazard or damage.”