As Pepco Threatens to Turn the Lights Off, Chevy Chase Woman’s Nearly Two-Year Fight Against Smart Meter Fee Could End
Deborah Vollmer owes Pepco $355.13 after repeatedly refusing to pay a state-mandated fee on her electricity bills
Chevy Chase resident Deborah Vollmer stands near the electricity meter outside her home
By Aaron Kraut
Updated Friday – For almost two years, Chevy Chase resident Deborah Vollmer has refused to get a smart meter installed on her home and to pay the $14-per-month smart meter opt-out fee on her electricity bill.
Now, Pepco is threatening to cut off her electricity.
Vollmer provided Bethesda Beat a copy of a March 9 letter from the company asking her for the $355.13 it says she owes. If Vollmer doesn’t pay, the utility will disconnect her electric service as early as March 24, the letter said.
“They’re basically asking me to pay for not having something that I don’t want,” Vollmer said Thursday. “I think if Pepco were an ethical service provider, they could just waive the fee for me and anyone else who conscientiously objects. The fees are simply coercive, exorbitant, punitive and unfair.”
Vollmer said her fight with Pepco over the smart meter opt-out fee started at least 20 months ago. From 2011 to 2013, Pepco began replacing old electricity-reading meters on homes with digital smart meters—technology the utility and state regulators say provides more detailed information on energy use and can save customers money.
Vollmer refused to have her old meter replaced. She said Thursday she’s concerned the smart meters might emit harmful electromagnetic radiation or might be used to violate her privacy by monitoring how she uses electricity.
Maryland’s Public Service Commission, which regulates the utility industry, issued an order in February 2014 that established a $75 upfront charge and $14-per-month fee for Pepco customers who don’t get a smart meter. The regulators ruled utility companies around the state should be allowed to recover “incurred costs created by opt-out customers,” still using the older meter technology.
Since Pepco started charging the fee, Vollmer has meticulously paid only the portions of her monthly Pepco bill she says are directly related to electricity service. She has included letters with her bills explaining her refusal to pay the smart meter opt-out fee and said Thursday Pepco has processed her payments. She paid a total of $27.78 for February.
“I thought we were kind of going to go on this way,” Vollmer said. “I thought this is sort of an uneasy peace.”
She said until March 9, Pepco never sent a letter asking her to pay the outstanding fees or risk losing her electric service.
Pepco spokesperson Marcus Beal said the utility doesn’t comment on billing issues of specific customers.
"We encourage customers to contact our Customer Care department at 202-833-7500 to resolve outstanding billing issues, but we do reserve the right to disconnect service as a last resort if a customer refuses to pay their bill in entirety," Pepco said in a prepared statement.
Beal pointed to the 2014 Public Service Commission order setting up the smart meter opt-out fees. Pepco has repeatedly stood by the opt-out fees and pointed to the benefits of the smart meters, which it says also include the ability to more quickly and accurately identify outages. Pepco offers credits to customers when the smart meters detect they used less electricity during periods of high demand.
On Thursday, Vollmer indicated she wasn’t willing to lose her electricity. But the retired attorney and former congressional candidate, known for her activism in the Town of Chevy Chase, has admitted to going to extreme lengths before.
Last year, Vollmer was arrested on a warrant by Montgomery County police and spent a night at the county’s Seven Locks detention facility for violating her probation.
The probation resulted from a malicious destruction of property conviction tied to an incident in 2012. Vollmer, unhappy with her next-door neighbors’ plans to repave a shared driveway dividing the two properties, wrote “No justice no peace” with her finger in wet concrete that was being applied for the driveway’s new apron. She also admitted to taking some of the paving stones and throwing them down on the driveway.
Vollmer also was involved in five lawsuits against her neighbors related to the driveway and the construction of their new home, but a judge ruled against her each time and the driveway was completely repaved last April. She is appealing at least $30,000 in legal fees.
She told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that she “doesn’t want to go down as a martyr” on the Pepco issue and realizes she needs electricity.
But she also said she’s considering buying a generator.
On Thursday afternoon, she filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission, claiming Pepco can’t use the opt-out fees to terminate her electricity service.