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Pa. lawmaker hopes legislature has wised up about smart meters

A Western Pennsylvania legislator hopes that 2017 is the year his colleagues will finally wise up about smart meters.

State Rep. Mike Reese (R., Westmoreland) says he will reintroduce legislation next month that would allow utility customers to opt out of having smart meters installed on their homes, after reading an Inquirer article about a Bucks County couple who spent $120,000 to produce their own power rather than have one of the digital devices on their house.

"I don't know a lot of people who have $120,000 to go out and create their own energy system," he said. "For folks who have real concerns, they should be able to opt out."

Since 2012, Reese has introduced legislation three times to allow customers to decline the wireless smart meters that transmit and receive data from utilities. A 2008 state law requires utilities to deploy the meters to all customers, no exceptions.

Reese's bills failed to clear the House Consumer Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Robert W. Godshall (R., Montgomery).

Godshall said it does not make economic sense to require utilities to provide for a second data-handling system to accommodate customers who object to smart meters. He is unswayed by the meter opponents' complaints, saying: "There is no groundswell to do it."

Some customers who object to the smart meters on privacy and health grounds have resisted their installation, and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has upheld utilities' authority to terminate service to customers who decline them.

However, the PUC is hearing complaints from customers who say they got sick from the wireless signals emitted by the meters. Utilities and the PUC say the devices are safe.

Diane and Stephen Van Schoyck, who said the smart meter Peco Energy Co. installed on their Langhorne house in 2014 made them ill, spent $120,000 to install an  off-grid power-generation system rather than continue as Peco customers.

Reese said his proposed legislation would allow the utility to charge fees for opt-out customers to pay the additional cost of a second data-gathering system. He said few customers would elect to pay extra for an old-style analog meter.

He would not reject a smart meter, Reese said.

"I want to be clear on this: I think the smart-meter technology is fantastic. I think there's a lot of really great opportunities for homeowners who have smart meters. That said, I don't think it's the job of government  to dictate what kind of metering you're going to have on your home."

Peco says that nearly all of its 1.6 million electric customers and 511,000 gas customers are now equipped with the devices.