Forum on smart meters draws large crowd

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published September 23, 2015

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HARPER WOODS — More than 80 people attended a forum on smart meters Sept. 2, some with questions and concerns, but a representative from DTE Energy, while invited, didn’t attend.


DTE Energy told City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk that it is no longer participating in town hall meetings, Skotarczyk said.


“We have discussed advanced meters with the city prior to the meeting,” DTE representative Scott Simons said in an email. “Our position stands that we are confident in the safety, security and benefits provided by the meters. We have now reached 2.7 million meters installed.”


The event included the showing of “Take Back Your Power,” a film that focuses on concerns about smart meters. Resident Regina Steiger moderated the forum, which also included state Rep. Brian Banks and David Sheldon, of michiganstopsmartmeters.com.


Council member Cheryl Costantino said the city had hoped that DTE would have sent a representative to answer questions and quell concerns.


“It seemed somewhat suspicious that DTE has been trying to rush through the meter changes, and they wouldn’t show up to talk to the public,” she said in a text message after the forum.


“The main thing seemed to me that people felt powerless against the Michigan Public Service Commission,” Costantino said.


While some have raised concerns about the smart meters, including health and safety issues, DTE has denied that there are safety issues and said that customers would gain new benefits from the technology.


“As with any electric device that utilizes (radio frequency), advanced meters have been monitored, tested and certified to ensure they meet national safety standards. The Federal Communications Commission sets health standards for RF exposure based on extensive reviews of biological and health studies,” Simons said prior to the night of the forum.


At that time, Simons also said that the advanced meters would allow for remote reading and would eliminate a reliance on estimated bills. The meters could reduce the length of power outages because DTE would be able to more quickly recognize electrical system issues, he said. Another benefit would be reductions in operating costs, which could keep rate increases down in the future, he said. The advanced meters also work with the DTE Insight app for people who want to monitor their energy usage in real time.


Costantino credited Steiger as the driving force that led to the forum.


“I recognized a lot of the residents who were there,” Costantino said. “Black and white, young and old, Democrat and Republican, rich and poor — the issue seems to concern all constituencies.” 


Skotarczyk said everyone at the meeting was respectful and orderly.


“Many people expressed their concern over the opt-out program in Michigan, specifically people not being permitted to keep their analog meters and, of course, the fee charged by DTE to opt out,” Skotarczyk said in an email. “There were individuals at the meeting who are interveners in the current lawsuit against the MPSC decision and the opt-out program who present some of their personal issues. 


“Mr. Sheldon informed everyone that he is filing a lawsuit on the cancelation of his power for refusing to allow the smart meter on his home and asked people to join the suit as interveners,” he said. “Rep. Banks made suggestions that residents contact their representatives in the Michigan Legislature regarding opposition to the opt-out program and stated that there is legislation that is being drafted to change the opt-out, but that he was concerned that it would not even make it to committee.”


Skotarczyk said Banks also suggested petitions.


During a recent meeting, the mayor and council asked the city administration to put together a resolution to support allowing residents to have a choice in meters without a fee.


The council was scheduled to consider that resolution at its meeting Sept. 21, which occurred after press time.


“DTE has worked collaboratively with the city of Harper Woods, informing it of the advanced meter transition occurring within the community,” Simons said in an email. “DTE’s opt-out program, including fees required by the program, has been approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission. Customers who opt out will receive new digital meters that do not wirelessly transmit usage information. Meter readers will continue to read meters each month for customers who participate in the opt-out program.”


Steiger said many of those in attendance Sept. 2 expressed frustration that DTE didn’t send someone to the forum to answer questions.


She believed they should have been there.


“If Michigan residents aren’t happy with being denied a choice in the type of meter that is installed on our homes … then DTE should face their consumers and explain themselves,” she said in an email. “They are, after all, only a utility. They provide a service, which we pay for. And if we’re not happy with their service or their heavy-handed tactics to install something on our own private dwellings that we’re concerned about (including shutting off power to those who refuse the so-called “smart meters”), then they need to show up and answer to their customers.”


Steiger said there are things residents can do if they are concerned about the issue.


She said Rep. Gary Glenn, vice chair of the Michigan House’s Committee on Energy Policy, is going to introduce a bill in the next couple of weeks that would allow residents to keep their analog meters if they chose to do so.


“Every Michigan resident of voting age needs to contact Rep. Glenn, and their own state representative, to let them know that we want that choice,” she said. “In addition, every Michigan resident of voting age needs to contact Aric Nesbitt, the chair of the House Committee on Energy Policy and tell him the same.


“We want that bill to make it out of committee and get voted on, and every representative in the Michigan House needs to know not only are we asking for that, we expect it,” she said.

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