Smart meter critics ask city for more support
October 21, 2015
Several residents and City Council challenger candidates made another round of pleas to Sterling Heights city officials to take more action on smart meters during an Oct. 6 council meeting.
During public comment, resident and council candidate Jackie Ryan said she did a Freedom of Information Act request and discovered documents related to the smart meter issue.
Smart meters, also known as advanced metering infrastructure, collect DTE Energy customers’ power usage data. But critics have expressed privacy and health concerns about the devices and the radio frequency waves they emit. Some residents have also complained that the devices have been installed at their homes without prior consent.
In past statements, DTE has defended the technology as safe and has defended its ability to access the meters, since they belong to the company.
In January 2012, Sterling Heights enacted a moratorium on smart meter installation until an opt-out option was provided to residents who didn’t want the new technology installed. The moratorium was later rescinded after DTE announced its version of an opt-out policy. The company still seeks to install the new technology, but it agreed to turn off the devices’ radio frequency emitting functions in exchange for opt-out fees.
On Oct. 6, Ryan said she found out through her FOIA request that DTE sent letters to City Manager Mark Vanderpool asking for the City Council-imposed moratorium to be lifted.
Ryan also said Vanderpool issued a memorandum in November 2013 informing the council that DTE had asked the city to rescind the moratorium because the energy company had provided an opt-out policy.
According to Ryan, the memo states that, upon getting an opt-out option that let residents refuse the meters, the moratorium was eliminated without further City Council action.
“That’s not right, because DTE gave an opt-out, but the opt-out never gave us the choice to keep our analog meters,” Ryan said.
Ryan criticized the city for not having a City Council agenda item on removing the moratorium. She also expressed dissatisfaction that no results happened after the council voted in March to ask state Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights, to get the Michigan attorney general’s legal opinion on whether smart meters could be regulated locally.
Other City Council candidates discussed the smart meter issue too. Mayoral candidate Paul Smith accused Vanderpool of apparently usurping the City Council’s power.
“DTE is too big and too tough to fight. They can bury us, but Mr. Vanderpool isn’t too big for us to take on,” Smith said. “Mr. Vanderpool, if he really did this, if Jackie’s FOIA is correct, Mr. Vanderpool has done something that is clearly grounds for dismissal.”
City Council hopeful Verna Babula asked the council to reinstate a moratorium immediately and to send a resolution supporting House bill 4916, which she said “gives the residents of Sterling Heights a choice … and lets them refuse the installation of a smart meter.”
In response, Mayor Michael Taylor said the council has possibly given the smart meter issue more attention “than every other issue that has come across us in the last six years combined.”
While he said he would like to see people keep their analog meters, he said he couldn’t enforce that as a city official.
“If I could … wave a magic wand right now and give all of you the ability to keep your analog meters, I would do it, and I’d put $100 in your pocket, and I’d cut gas prices to a dollar,” he said. “Some of the things, I just can’t do.”
Taylor said only the state of Michigan has the power to regulate DTE, particularly through a state agency called the Michigan Public Service Commission. He said the city did pass a moratorium until an opt-out was created, and when DTE came up with such a policy, the MPSC declared it acceptable, despite the attached fee.
“It just kind of died,” Taylor said about the moratorium. “There was no official action by the city manager to terminate it. There were no backroom deals cut. The council didn’t cut any backroom deals with DTE. It was simply a matter of state law — we could not enforce something that we don’t have the power to do.”
Vanderpool said they have talked to officials in other cities about smart meters, but he said they weren’t willing to subject themselves to costly litigation to fight them.
“The attorney general has consistently opined in favor with court decisions that have recently came out on smart meters, so again, reaffirming that the Michigan Public Service Commission has sole authority and discretion over regulatory control of smart meters,” he said.