MA Activists Renew Call Against Smart Meters After Harvard’s Fraud Report

MA Activists Renew Call Against Smart Meters After Harvard’s Fraud Report

In response to the report “Captured Agency, How the Federal Communications Commission is Dominated by the Industries it Presumably Regulates,” MA activists are renewing their call for investigation of the Dept. of Public Utilities smart meter mandate.

The report, by Norm Alster, was just released by the Harvard Center for Ethics.

The report reads:

“The Federal Communications Commission sits at the heart of a bipartisan Washington web of institutional corruption that has for many years championed corporate interests, typically at public expense. Echoing industry, the FCC has ignored the growing evidence that wireless technologies pose serious health risks.” 

“The FCC‘s network of corruption doesn‘t just shield industry from needed scrutiny and regulation on matters of public health and safety. Sometimes it just puts its hand directly into the public pocket and redistributes that cash to industry supplicants.”

In a released statement from Patricia Burke of, she writes: “MA DPU mandate forces ratepayers to finance deployment of wireless meters and infrastructure for investor-owned utilities. A fraud complaint was submitted to the Attorney General and the Legislature by concerning health claims in the meter mandate DPU 12-76-B. The DPU mischaracterized the scope of the FCC limits by implying that they protect against non-thermal impacts, quoting references that do not correspond to the document’s claims.

“Citizens are being misled about renewable energy and energy efficiency. The DPU’s expert witness testified for Phillip Morris cigarettes the same week he testified for the DPU. When the agency responsible for the safe and reliable delivery of electricity essentially lies about safety, its necessary for a system of checks and balances to prevail. Its not a question of whether the DPU order is fraudulent, because it is. The question is whether elected officials will collude with the DPU, or begin the necessary process of restoring integrity to energy policy. Property values, the ecosystem, and human health are being threatened on many fronts by massive energy projects that are not helping move to U.S towards greater ecological stewardship, and the DPU has not protected MA residents from harm.”

In his encyclical, Pope Francis stated: “Our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values, and conscience.” In describing relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment; he said that “apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness were to blame.” MA residents striving to ensure that smart meter health, fire, safety, hacking, security, green-washing, privacy, and cost issues are addressed have their sights set squarely on unsafe, unethical radio frequency exposures, including stealth antennas hidden in church steeples in residential neighborhoods.

Sedona Arizona Update-Incompetence and Misinfo at the ACC’s “Consumer Services”

Incompetence and Misinfo at the ACC’s “Consumer Services”
Information & Perspective by Warren Woodward
Sedona, Arizona ~ June 28, 2015

           Among the emails and documents I recently received via a Public Records Request of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) were some complaint forms from the ACC’s Consumer Services section. Whenever someone calls or emails the ACC with a complaint or question about a utility, these forms are used to record the complaint or question as well as the ACC’s response.

Attached is one that unfortunately contains typical ACC misinformation.

A Tucson Electric Power (TEP) customer called in with the following question as described by Jenny Gomez who evidently took the call at the ACC:

“She wants to know if these meters will cause health problems like the radio wave kind and are they more accurate.”

Gomez’s misleading and untruthful response:

“I advised that the TEP meters are not radio wave and they are read through the electric lines and yes they are more accurate than the analog type.”

The unfortunate customer who called in was grossly misinformed by Gomez.

TEP’s meters transmit microwaves every 30 seconds. That is a matter of public record.

At TEP’s website we find the following: “Our AMR meters send out readings approximately every 30 seconds.” ( )

As well, anyone can view the video archives of the March 23, 2012 ACC “workshop” meeting and watch the TEP/Unisource representative tell everyone that TEP’s meters transmit every 30 seconds (at 4:54:08 here: ).

As a sadly humorous side note, in the TEP/Unisource representative’s world, every 30 seconds is not “continuous.” If you had a dog barking next door every 30 seconds would that be continuous or not?

Additionally, not having done any comparative testing, neither Gomez not the ACC is qualified to make statements about the accuracy of TEP’s meters.

How can the ACC regulate something about which they know so little?

UK-Smart meters set to cost Blighty as much as replacing Trident

Smart meters set to cost Blighty as much as replacing Trident

‘Significant issues already exist’ with spybox tech, too

 29 Jun 2015 Kat Hall

Smart meters will cost as much as the Trident nuclear deterrent to implement, with the full cost of the scheme rising to £19bn, according to a government report.

Total lifetime costs of the programme have now risen by £2bn since 2013, according to a report by the Major Projects Authority.

In contrast, the Trident replacement programme is estimated to cost between £17.5bn and £23.4bn.

Surprisingly, the smart meter project has been flagged as “amber” — meaning “successful delivery appears feasible but significant issues already exist.”

This is despite a number of warnings that the programme is in danger of turning into a “costly failure”.

Earlier this year a report by the Energy and Climate Change Committee said it does “not believe” plans to install 53 million devices in homes and businesses by 2020 will be achieved.

Last year, £13.14m was spent on the programme which is still in its ‘foundation stage’, an increase of £1.76m to fund additional assurance and risk reduction activities in line with recommendations from the National Audit Office and MPA Review.

However, DECC insisted changes in cost were solely driven by the change in accounting methodology, not by underlying cost changes, said the report.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is one of three government departments to take the lion’s share of big project spend.

Of the £489bn locked into 188 big projects over the next 40 years, projects at DECC, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport contribute soak up 80 per cent.

The report said this reflects the high capital cost of “innovative defence equipment, of new energy infrastructure that will tackle climate change, and of modernising the UK’s transport infrastructure.”

It added: “Since these are large capital projects, these departments have many of the projects with the longest duration, for example, the Department for Transport’s High Speed Rail Programme … and the Ministry of Defence’s Successor Submarines, which will carry the UK’s future strategic nuclear deterrent.” ®

In Drought, Smart Meters Prompt Privacy Concerns

In Drought, Smart Meters Prompt Privacy Concerns

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

surveil 1

Smart water meters are being used for a non-traditional purpose in California, where authorities are trying to enforce conservation measures during the drought.

When Governor Jerry Brown mandated that water use be cut by 25 percent compared to 2013 levels, some waters utilities found the restriction difficult to institute. Water departments, after all, are not “spy agencies,” as a recent Wired article pointed out. The Long Beach Water Department, for instance “doesn’t have the resources to conduct surveillance or stage sting operations to catch water wasters in the act.”

Smart water meters are bridging the gap for some utilities, as the technology is increasingly used to monitor water wasting, Wired reported:

Traditional water meters essentially provide a running tally of how much water a customer has used. Your bill is based on your current total, minus last month’s total. The utility has no idea how much water you actually use on a day-to-day basis, let alone what time of day you use the most water. But to enforce water restrictions, utilities need to know exactly that. The Long Beach Water Department is one of a small but growing number of utilities turning to electronic “smart” meters to solve the problem.

The use of utility data for purposes other than billing has sometimes prompted suspicion from customers. In previous year, the energy industry has encountered criticism for the release of ratepayer data. The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

The American Civil Liberties Union warned that energy-use information represents one more way for government agencies to peer into Americans’ lives. The release comes in the wake of recent disclosures about how the National Security Agency uses cell phone ‘metadata’ and other personal electronic records when investigating national security threats.

One group called Smart Grid Awareness has alleged that smart water meters expose customers to potential privacy breaches, although this is not a mainstream concern. “[The features of smart meters mean] that you would be subjected to constant surveillance, even though no mention is made of customer privacy invasions by vendors or utilities. Moreover, combined with the granular data collected by smart electric meters, an even clearer picture emerges on your behaviors in the home,” the group argues.

Smart water meters are not just being used to get people in trouble. “Many people just want to use less water and want more immediate feedback on their usage than monthly water bill can provide. So as part of a pilot program, the Water Department [in Long Beach] also gave out around 200 smart water meters to residents. [A department official] says the city believes they are having an impact,” Wired reported.

Some water utilities are resistant to smart water meters, according to Wired, since conservation challenges revenue and because installation is costly.

For more on the latest metering innovations, visit Water Online’s AMR, AMI and Metering Solutions Center.

Smart Meters Fire, Living Hell and Bureaucratic Messes

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Smart Meters Fire, Living Hell and Bureaucratic Messes


By Catherine J. Frompovich

This is the real life story about what a Smart Meter can do to your home and your life, especially when a public utility company, a state regulatory agency and insurance company are involved. Colleen, of Yardley, Pennsylvania, has been living a Faustian nightmare and feels she has been pressed to all reasonable limits all because of PECO, an Exelon company, installing a SMART METER on her house. All surnames have been deleted because there is a lawsuit involved.

Colleen contacted me with her story, asking if I could write an article about it. However, after reading it, I thought I would submit it in her trauma-stricken words, since I never could do it the justice her Smart Meter odyssey needs in every manner: morally, legally and financially.

No utility customer should have to go through with the devastatingly unknown problems Smart Meters cause: fires, explosions, problems with insurance companies, housing displacement, etc.—even some deaths due to Smart Meter fires. Nonetheless, it seems Pennsylvania state officials are turning totally deaf ears to consumer complaints about Smart Meters. One state legislator, Representative Robert Godshall, who chairs the Consumer Affairs Committee where Smart Meter Opt-out bills have been referred to, refuses to bring HB 394, HB395 and HB396 up for a vote. Apparently, too many state legislators want legal opt-outs from Smart Meters for Pennsylvanians—as other states provide.

Furthermore, when Pennsylvania legislators originally voted and approved HB2200, which became Act 129 of 2008, Smart Meters would NOT be mandatory, but the PA Public Utility Commission has misinterpreted and overreached in implementation regulations making Smart Meters mandatory for every household and building in Pennsylvania. That’s illegal and has to be addressed by the Governor and the state court system.

What follows is a story every utility company customer EVERYWHERE should read to know what happens when a Smart Meter is retrofitted on a home’s metering panel and then malfunctions. Please take the time and learn from one family’s excruciating and unbelievable Smart Meter nightmare. Now, I defer to Colleen.

I’m Colleen of Yardley, Pennsylvania, and writing my story because the facts and truth need to be told about what my children and I have been through because of PECO, Grid One and State Farm Insurance. I’ve stayed quiet, like my attorneys have told me to, but as the latest series of events have unfolded, I’m not even sure whom I can trust anymore. My story begins on January 4, 2013.

Read full article at:

FCC: ‘Prime Example of Institutional Corruption’

Federal Court

FCC: ‘Prime Example of Institutional Corruption’

Captured AgencyIn a new publication just released from Harvard University, Norm Alster examines how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is dominated by the industries it presumably regulates.  What follows are selected quotations which are organized in a way to effectively create a synopsis version of the original 59-page document. [1]

“Consumer safety, health, and privacy, along with consumer wallets, have all been overlooked, sacrificed, or raided due to unchecked industry influence.” [2]

“The Federal Communications Commission sits at the heart of a bipartisan Washington web of institutional corruption that has for many years championed corporate interests, typically at public expense.  Echoing industry, the FCC has ignored the growing evidence that wireless technologies pose serious health risks.” [3]

“A troubling body of evidence suggests exposure to even low emission levels at typical cellular frequencies between 300 MHz and 3 GHz can have a wide range of negative effects.”

“Just months ago, a German scientist who had been outspoken in denouncing the view that cell phones pose health risks reversed course.  In an April 2015 publication, Alexander Lerchl reported results confirming previous research on the tumor-promoting effects of electromagnetic fields well below human exposure limits for mobile phones.  ‘Our findings may help to understand the repeatedly reported increased incidences of brain tumors in heavy users of mobile phones,’ the Lerchl team concluded.  And in May 2015, more than 200 scientists boasting over 2,000 publications on wireless effects called on global institutions to address the health risks posed by this technology.” [4] 

Industry Control of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [5]

“Industry controls the FCC through a soup-to-nuts stranglehold that extends from its well-placed campaign spending in Congress through its control of the FCC‘s Congressional oversight committees to its persistent agency lobbying.  ‘If you‘re on a committee that regulates industry you‘ll be a major target for industry,’ said Twaun Samuel, chief of staff for Congresswoman Maxine Waters.  Samuel several years ago helped write a bill aimed at slowing the revolving door.  But with Congress getting its marching orders from industry, the bill never gained any traction.

Industry control, in the case of wireless health issues, extends beyond Congress and regulators to basic scientific research.  And in an obvious echo of the hardball tactics of the tobacco industry, the wireless industry has backed up its economic and political power by stonewalling on public relations and bullying potential threats into submission with its huge standing army of lawyers.” 

Corruption at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [6] 

“As a captured agency, the FCC is a prime example of institutional corruption.  Officials in such institutions do not need to receive envelopes bulging with cash. But even their most well-intentioned efforts are often overwhelmed by a system that favors powerful private influences, typically at the expense of public interest.”

Note:  “Captured agencies are essentially controlled by the industries they are supposed to regulate.”

“Perhaps the best example of how the FCC is tangled in a chain of corruption is the cell tower and antenna infrastructure that lies at the heart of the phenomenally successful wireless industry.  It all begins with passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, legislation once described by South Dakota Republican senator Larry Pressler as “the most lobbied bill in history.’ …   Specifically, [local governments] cannot cite health concerns about the effects of tower radiation to deny tower licenses so long as the towers comply with FCC regulations.”

“The FCC‘s network of corruption doesn‘t just shield industry from needed scrutiny and regulation on matters of public health and safety.  Sometimes it just puts its hand directly into the public pocket and redistributes that cash to industry supplicants.”

“The General Accounting Office (GAO) has issued several reports citing fraud, waste and mismanagement, along with inadequate FCC oversight of the subsidy program.  Bribery, kickbacks and false documentation can perhaps be expected in a handout program mandated by Congress and only indirectly supervised by the FCC.  But the scope of fraud has been impressive.  The most striking corruption has marred the E-Rate program, which subsidizes Internet hardware, software and service for schools and libraries, and the Lifeline cell phone subsidies.”

“Where there is institutional corruption, there are often underlying dependencies that undermine the autonomy and integrity of that institution.  Such is the case with the FCC and its broader network of institutional corruption.”

“Temptation is everywhere in Washington, where moneyed lobbyists and industry representatives throw the best parties and dinners.  Money also allows industry to control other important factors, like the research agenda.  All of this works together to industry‘s advantage because — as with other instances of institutional corruption — there are compromising dependencies.  Policy makers, political candidates and legislators, as well as scientific researchers are all compromised by their dependence on industry money.”

What about Privacy? [7]

“The FCC … has never been a consumer advocate. …  That‘s what makes the FCC‘s potential move into privacy protection so important and so surprising.”

“When the smoke clears — and it hasn‘t yet — the FCC could make consumer identifiers like IP addresses the equivalent of phone numbers.  Suddenly, the Internet companies that have trafficked in all that personal data would be subject to the same controls as the phone and cable companies.”

“It remains to be seen if [officials] at the FCC are really willing to take on privacy enforcement.  Such a stance would require great courage as the entire Internet infrastructure is built around privacy abuse.  It is also questionable whether the FCC would have the courage to challenge Google — a rare corporate ally in the battles over Net Neutrality.”

Survey of Consumer Attitudes [8]

“The inclination of consumers to change behavior should negative health effects be confirmed suggests the stakes are enormous for all companies that derive revenue from wireless usage.”

It‘s clear at this point [that] confirmation of health dangers — or even of behind-the-scenes political pressures — from wireless will substantially diminish public trust in the FCC.  [See figure below.]  Skeptics might argue that this gives the FCC motive to continue to downplay and dismiss further evidence of biological and human health effects.  Those of a more optimistic bent might see in these findings reason to encourage an FCC concerned about public trust to shake itself loose from special interests.”

Various Possible Facts

A Modest Agenda to ‘Right Some of the Wrongs’ [9]

“There are some steps — and most are modest — that the FCC can take now to right some of the wrongs that result from long years of inordinate industry access and influence:

  1. Acknowledge that there may be health risks in wireless communications.  Take down the dismissive language.  Maturely and independently discuss the research and ongoing debate on the safety of this technology.
  1. In recognition of this scientific uncertainty, adopt a precautionary view on use of wireless technology.
  1. Back off the promotion of Wi-Fi.  As Professor Lennart Hardell has noted, there are wired alternatives that do not expose children to wireless risk.
  1. Petition Congress for the budgetary additions needed to expand testing of emissions on antenna sites. …  There is evidence of vast non-compliance and Congress needs to ensure that tower infrastructure is operating within the law.
  1. Acknowledge that children and pregnant women may be more vulnerable to the effects of RF emissions and require special protection.
  1. Promote cable debundling as a way to lighten consumer cable bills, especially for those customers who don‘t care about high-cost sports programming.
  1. Apply more rigorous analysis to properly assess the value of technology in education. Evidence continues to pile up that technology in education is not as valuable as tech companies claim.
  1. “Take over enforcement of personal privacy rights on the Internet. …  It would involve challenging many of the entrenched powers of the Internet.”

Concluding Thoughts [10] 

“Let‘s be clear. …  The problem is not technology, which unarguably brings countless benefits to modern life.   The problem is with the over-extension of claims for technology‘s usefulness and the worshipful adulation of technology even where it has fearful consequences.  Most fundamentally, the problem is the willingness in Washington — for reasons of both venality and naïveté — to give technology a free pass.”

“Personally, I don‘t believe that just because something can be done it should heedlessly be allowed.  Murder, rape and Ponzi schemes are all doable — but subject to prohibition and regulation.  Government regulators have the responsibility to examine the consequences of new technologies and act to at least contain some of the worst.”

“Beyond legislators and regulators, public outrage and the courts can also play a rolebut these can be muffled indefinitely by misinformation and bullying.” 

References and Notes

[1]  “Captured Agency: How the Federal Communications Commission Is Dominated by the Industries It Presumably Regulates,” by Alster, Norm; Cambridge, MA; Edmund J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University (2015).  PDF document available at:   PDF:

Material from the original publication has been adapted/ remixed for purposes of this blog article by SkyVision Solutions.  Such adaptation is allowed under the terms of a Creative Commons 4.0 license, but the publication author does not necessarily endorse this adaptation.

[2]  “Captured Agency: How the Federal Communications Commission Is Dominated by the Industries It Presumably Regulates,” page 5 of PDF document at:

[3]  Description for “Captured Agency: How the Federal Communications Commission Is Dominated by the Industries It Presumably Regulates Kindle Edition,” at

[4]  “Captured Agency: How the Federal Communications Commission Is Dominated by the Industries It Presumably Regulates,” pages 11, 18 of PDF document at:

[5]  Ibid. page 5 of PDF document at:

[6]  Ibid. Keyword search results of sentences or paragraphs for the word “corruption” contained within the PDF document at:

[7]  Ibid. pages 44, 45 of PDF document at:

[8]  Ibid. pages 55, 56 of PDF document at:

[9]  Ibid. page 48 of PDF document at:

[10] Ibid. page 49 of PDF document at:

PA-People who have problems with Smart Meters should work together


LETTER: People who have problems with Smart Meters should work together

I just spoke to a woman whose problems with Smart Meter installation apparently triggered a flash, sparks and eruption that was only the beginning of the electrical outages and myriad problems that have persisted for well over a year despite superhuman efforts on her part. Her story is rife with apparent lapses by those at companies and agencies and in various professional positions that are all pointing their fingers at one another while none appear to be doing the job that they could be doing that would either prevent the problem or at the very least allow for those who were responsible to shoulder the burden. There were more than a few clues in the midst of all of this that pointed to the fact that the victims of the Smart Meters are not connected. In fact, they are almost purposely isolated and even “threatened” in various ways in order to put them at and keep them at a disadvantage.

Working locally is the best method of handling any problem . If any of you has an experience or a real problem with Smart Meters, or knows of others who have, please contact me and I will connect you together so that your collective voices and collective experience can add a new dimension to your efforts to change this situation for yourself and others. College courses surely should include one of grassroots networking and the power of multiple voices. Currently the tactics of isolation are winning — not just regarding Smart Meters but in so many other situations. Time for a change.

Woodstock councilmen disagree over ‘smart’ meter meeting

LETTER: Woodstock councilmen disagree over ‘smart’ meter meeting

A ‘smart’ electric meter. FILE PHOTO BY TONY ADAMIS

Dear Editor,

Re “LETTER: Woodstock Town Board was unfairly abused by ‘smart meter’ opponents,” June 21, 2015, by Ken Panza: My colleague on the Woodstock Town Board wrote that the public “abused” and “bullied” us at our last meeting.

Ken didn’t allow discussion to be held on the advisability of combining the two resolutions previously voted on that were to be sent to the state Public Service Commission. Two resolutions on one topic will only help the world to see that Town Board action as ga-ga.

He mentions a third resolution as submitted by the “people” that was sent to the state Legislature. In fact it was supplied by Terry Bernardo, who was present at the meeting. Obviously, he didn’t know what he voted for.

Most importantly is his statement about the outburst of anger and frustration from the public. I think he hasn’t been paying attention, because the public has very often displayed righteous feelings when a majority of the board has denied them.

don’t support screaming and yelling, but it’s understandable, under the circumstances. The people elect and pay us, and it’s insulting to refer to them as bullies.

Jay Wenk

Councilman, Woodstock Town Board

Woodstock, N.Y.

Could Smart Meter be Responsible For Close Call at Meaford Residence?

Could Smart Meter be Responsible For Close Call at Meaford Residence?

  A rural Meaford resident is feeling fortunate after discovering that the wires running to his in-house Smart Meter were heating up, and beginning to smoke.

On the morning of June 24, I became aware of a very strong odour of what seemed to be hot or burning metal in my house. I traced the source to my Smart Meter located inside my house,” recalled Meaford resident David Mason. “I for some reason, put my hand on the box the Smart Meter was plugged into and it was extremely hot!”

Mason, his wife and their two dogs were all in the home at the time.

He told The Independent that after finding the source of the burning odour, he phoned an electrician, who advised him to call the hydro company who in turn advised him to call an electrician while awaiting a hydro crew to arrive.

They took my info and said they would have a crew respond as soon as possible, but that I should call an electrician as their responsibility ended at the glass in the meter,” Mason told The Independent.

Both the electrician and Hydro One arrived at the home quickly, Mason said.

When the electricians removed the Smart Meter from the panel box, it was clear that Mason’s home had narrowly escaped a much more serious situation.

Mason said that the Smart Meter was in-tact, and undamaged, however the wires leading to the meter were burned.

The Smart Meter itself was not replaced as it in fact was not damaged. The damage was to the wiring in the box the meter plugs into. The box was replaced by Ormsby Electrical who responded very quickly after I contacted them,” Mason told The Independent.

Mason contacted The Meaford Fire Department the following day (June 25) to advise them of what had happened, and they attended the residence later that afternoon to begin an investigation, and they advised Mason that the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) will be called in to conduct an investigation.

A recent incident in Collingwood, initially blamed on a faulty Smart Meter was later determined to have been the result of other, unknown causes according to the Electrical Safety Authority who investigated that incident along with the Collingwood Fire Department.

It is clear from the pattern of the fire and damage to equipment that the fire originated outside the electrical meter,” the ESA said in a press release earlier this month.

In January of this year, the ESA ordered the removal of 5,400 meters in Ontario which were similar in design to the Smart Meters thought responsible for several house fires in Saskatchewan. Last year Saskatchewan replaced every Smart Meter that had been installed in the province – 105,000 of them – at a cost of several million dollars. The meter in C0llingwood was not the same make and model as those ordered removed by the ESA.

When asked how safe he feels with a potentially dangerous Smart Meter inside his home, Mason said that the incident has caused he and his wife some anxiety.

As far as feeling safe in my home, I guess my wife and I are now somewhat paranoid about it. Even though it’s a new installation, I have found myself touching the box to see if it is getting hot. As well, my house is wood framed with wood siding, and we are bordered on two sides by forest. My neighbour on the east is surrounded by pine forest as are the next two homes. The potential here for a major disaster is disturbing,” said Mason who added that he is more concerned now about the province selling a controlling interest of Hydro One to a private company.

Given the fact that the present government is going to sell off a good chunk of Hydro One to an unaccountable private entity, I am more concerned than ever about the chances of a major problem arising,” he said.

The Meaford Fire Department had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication on Thursday evening (June 25), however we will be following up on this story over the next few days as more information comes available, and the Fire Department has had an opportunity to respond to questions from The Independent.




MICHIGAN-Smart meters and silent hikes

  • Doug Spade and Mike Clement: Smart meters and silent hikes

  • Utility policy changes in Michigan a cause for concern
  • Utility policy changes in Michigan a cause for concern

The smart meters are coming, and we are none too happy about it. No, we have not been hanging out in Area 51. Nor do we represent the Tin Foil Hat Guild. But Consumers Energy is not our favorite utility these days. The pending arrival of smart meters is one reason. This month’s rate increase is another. The one the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) has not yet approved. You didn’t know about it? You can thank the Michigan legislature for letting it happen. And after the smart meters are in place, newer, even bigger increases will be possible.

It used to be utilities could not raise rates until the PSC determined they were justified — a process that often took up to a year. Unwilling to wait that long, electric and gas companies convinced the legislature in 2008 to change the law. Through self-implementation, utilities can now start imposing higher charges months before the PSC makes their final ruling. And on June 4, Consumers Energy did just that — self-implementing — very, very quietly — a $110 million rate increase. No public announcement. No press release. Even the PSC — the agency that is supposed to be looking out for the public’s interest — stayed silent.

All of this really bothered Public Service Commissioner Greg White, who wanted to know why the PSC was not more forthcoming. According to the MIRS news service in Lansing, an agency spokesperson said no announcement is required until the PSC rules on the full $160 million rate hike request Consumers Energy filed this past December. That probably won’t happen for another five or six months. Aside from this column, about the only way customers will know their rates have gone up is by looking at their next bill. The company says it will include a message about the increase with it.

It will cost most households several dollars more per month and pay for plant upgrades, maintenance and repairs. But it will also be used to buy and install smart meters which, as this newspaper recently reported, will start happening in Lenawee County next year.

Smart meters have digital displays and let the power company know precisely how much electricity you are using every hour. No longer will a meter reader gather monthly usage data. Instead it will be automatically collected, and a communication chip in the meter will transmit the current readings directly to the utility. A very nice lady at a Consumers Energy call center tried to convince us how wonderful it will be for people to go online to see these hourly updates. We would prefer to read the meter ourselves and get the same information through a simple mathematical formula called subtraction.

Instantaneous data collection from smart meters is too Big Brotherish for our taste. Analysis will show when people use more electricity, and the utilities can then seek much higher rates during those times. Some parts of Michigan already have these “time of use” rates in place, and the PSC is encouraging even greater use of them. Customers signing up for this option pay a much higher rate for power usage during certain hours and a lower rate at others. But it could easily become mandatory, making air conditioning or heat at times extremely expensive. Same for cooking for doing the laundry.