Judge says Peco customer can relocate a smart meter, but not get rid of it

A Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission administrative law judge has ruled that a New Hope customer who says a Peco smart meter made her sick can’t force the utility to replace the wireless device, but she can pay to move the equipment away from her house.

In a recommended decision posted Tuesday, the PUC hearing examiner, Darlene D. Heep, said that Peco had successfully rebutted Maria Povacz’s claims that radio waves from the meter had caused her health problems.

But the judge said, “The preponderance of the evidence does suggest that some other aspect of the Peco smart meters is inimitably perceptible by and contrary to the health and well-being of the individual, Ms. Povacz.”

While not allowing Povacz to reject a smart meter, or replace it with an old analog electric meter that must be manually read, the judge said the customer could pay to relocate the smart meter away from her house. Peco would be required to move its power line to the new meter location.

The decision was among three long-awaited rulings posted Tuesday in cases brought by customers who said Peco’s wireless smart meters caused their health problems. The customers had asked to opt out from having the devices, which the utility says it is required to install under a 2008 state law that allows no exceptions.

Heep’s determination that “some other aspect” of the meter caused Povacz’s ill health seems unlikely to lay the issue to rest.

In two other cases that were argued along with Povacz’s claim, Heep dismissed the complaints of Cynthia Randall and Paul Albrecht, who live in Roxborough, and Laura Sunstein Murphy of West Bradford Township, Chester County. The judge said the customers had not established that the use of smart meters constituted unsafe and unreasonable service.

Edward Lanza, a Harrisburg lawyer who had argued the cases along with Steve Harvey of Philadelphia, expressed disappointment with the decisions and said he planned to file exceptions.

The recommended decisions will be reviewed by the five-member PUC, which makes the final decisions.

Peco installed 1.7 million smart meters on its system, and scores of utility customers objected, alleging the meters were unsafe or invaded their privacy. The three cases, filed in 2015 and 2016, were among a small number the PUC allowed to move forward because the customers said the devices emit electromagnetic frequencies that caused their health problems.

Customers who object to smart meters have few options available other than completely disconnecting from Peco’s system and generating their own power.