Forum to focus on smart meters

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published August 27, 2015

After residents voiced concerns during a recent City Council meeting about DTE’s smart meters, city officials decided to set up a public forum on the issue.

The forum will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 2 at Harper Woods City Hall, starting with the showing of the film “Take Back Your Power.” David Sheldon, of, is scheduled to speak, and a representative from DTE will be invited, according to planners. The city also is inviting county and state officials.

The forum will be open to residents of any community who are interested in learning more about the smart meters.

“At the City Council meeting residents brought it up and a forum was discussed, and I think that it was (Councilman) Hugh Marshall that said we should have a forum and asked if I would organize it because I had already spoken to the state rep. after receiving several inquiries from constituents,” Councilwoman Cheryl Costantino said.

“Other council members were interested as well,” she said.

Costantino said that the city manager recommended inviting DTE to the forum.

“We thought that was a good idea to hear both sides of the issue,” Costantino said.

The concerns include safety with the radio frequency radiation emitted from the meters, but also the cumulative effect of various types of technology including cellphones, microwaves, Wi-Fi and other devices in addition to the meters, as well as the use of multiple meters in a neighborhood. 

Harper Woods resident Regina Steiger is one of the residents who is looking for answers about the meters.

“Our insurance agent told me yesterday that if a city is allowing DTE to install their advanced meters (smart meters) on the homes and businesses of their residents, the city must have documentation from DTE attesting to the safety of those meters,” Steiger said in an email.

She has a list of documentation she has recommended that the city request from DTE.

One of those items includes requesting any documentation the company has on cumulative risk of radiation emitted by various devices including smart meters.

“DTE has stated that smart meters emit radiation in pulses that last only minutes a day in any given 24-hour period,” she said. “Is it true that those minutes are actually broken up in seconds to milliseconds throughout the day, thereby extending the level of radiation to a continuous one emitted throughout the course of every 24-hour period?”

She said that the FCC has said that smart meter radiation is at a level that is within safety standards, though she has questions about the standard. She wants DTE to say if it has documentation that guarantees that there isn’t a risk in different types of circumstances. 

There are also concerns about privacy issues.

DTE representative Scott Simons said that the advanced meters use technology that allows remote reading, which he said is beneficial to DTE and its customers. He said the benefits to customers include eliminating the reliance on estimated bills, reducing the length of power outages by allowing quicker recognition of electric system issues, faster and less-intrusive service, and reductions in operating costs to keep rate increases down in the future.

“Customers can choose to opt out of the program for a fee and receive new digital meters that do not wirelessly transmit usage information,” Simons said in an email. “A meter reader will stop by their homes once a month, as has been our previous practice.

“It should be noted that the Michigan Public Service Commission has approved DTE’s advanced meter program and its program to allow customers to opt out,” he said. “The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the MPSC’s orders that approved the opt-out program on all counts.”

Simons touched on the safety concerns. The meters have been monitored and tested to make sure they meet safety regulations, and the radio frequency exposure is significantly below levels permitted by the FCC and less than those emitted by other popular electronic devices, he said.

“While concerns have been raised about the potential impact of the radio frequency generated by advanced meters, numerous studies have shown that advanced meters using RF technology pose no health risk,” he said in the email. “Even an American Cancer Society report states, ‘There is no clear evidence at this time that RF waves from smart meters (or other devices) can cause harmful health effects. The low levels of energy from RF waves have not been clearly shown to cause problems even at close range, and the energy decreases the farther a person is from the transmission source.’”

As for the privacy issues, Simons said that the meters only collect information on energy usage.

“And they certainly don’t spy on activities in our customers’ homes,” he said. “We don’t want to know what our customers do in their homes, and we work hard, implementing the latest in technology, to keep personal information safe. We don’t sell usage information to third parties and have never done so. That business practice has continued with advanced meters.

“DTE Energy believes there is absolutely no merit to the concerns raised by some individuals about advanced meters, and we remain confident in the safety, security and benefits provided by the meters,” he said.