DTE Energy, the company that is in the process of installing advanced utility meters in a number of communities in southeast Michigan, recently announced that it is developing an option that would allow individual customers to opt out of the controversial program – for a price.
Unlike traditional electric meters that merely record power use – and then must be read in person once a month by a meter reader – advanced utility meters or “smart meters” eliminate the need for manual readings, which also eliminate the need for physical access to a customer’s property. And by being networked to computers in electric utilities, the new meters can signal people or their appliances to take certain actions, such as reducing power usage when electricity prices spike.
“There are numerous cost savings and benefits associated with the installation of advanced meters, as well as considerable improvements in the company’s ability to efficiently operate its electric system,” DTE Energy officials wrote in a report filed with the Michigan Public Service Commission on March 16.
But some have argued that the very interactivity that makes smart meters so attractive also makes them vulnerable to hackers, because each meter essentially is a computer connected to a vast network that some argue will be used to monitor residents’ activities. In addition, some residents have raised concerns regarding health issues and consumer rights violations.
“DTE Energy believes there is absolutely no merit to these individuals’ concerns, and we remain confident in the safety, security and benefits provided by advanced meters,” DTE Energy officials wrote in a letter read by Shelby Township Supervisor Richard Stathakis at the March 6 Board of Trustees meeting.
“However, we (DTE Energy) also recognize the strong, emotional feelings these individuals have expressed, and as a result, we are developing an option that would allow individual customers to opt out of the advanced meter program.”
The Board of Trustees previously passed a resolution expressing its concern with the installation of smart meters in the township, and requested that the MPSC perform an analysis of the potential health and safety effects which may result from the installation of the meters.
“I think the board’s resolution, along with those passed by other communities, went a long way in persuading DTE Energy that an opt-out program would be in everyone’s best interest,” Stathakis said.
Shelby Township Treasurer Paul Viar said he was pleased to see that an opt-out option was being offered.
“This option should have been advanced from day one,” he said.
Sterling Heights Mayor Pro Tem Michael Taylor was also pleased with the announcement. It was Taylor who introduced a moratorium on the installation of smart meters in the city “until such time that an option to refuse the installation of such meters is given to all residents with or without cause, for any reason whatsoever.” The motion was supported unanimously Jan. 3.
“It is gratifying to see that DTE listened to the concerns of our residents and decided to comply with our resolution demanding the ability to opt out of the smart meter program,” Taylor said. “This is a great example of how individual residents can use their voice to affect local and state energy policies in a positive way, and I am glad to have played a role in bringing about this change.”
While details of the opt-out program have not been fully developed, the report filed with the MPSC indicated that customers who choose not to have smart meters could be ineligible for optional programs where a smart meter is required and be responsible “for all costs associated with that choice.”
DTE Energy has already installed approximately 650,000 advanced meters in communities throughout Oakland County, as well as on Grosse Ile and Harsens Island. Another 120,000 meters will be installed in Washtenaw County in 2012. Installation of the devices had yet to be scheduled in Macomb County or other southeastern Michigan communities.
“The overwhelming majority of our customers fully support (advanced meters),” the report states.
The MPSC will continue its study of smart meters through April 16, the deadline for public comments on the issue. The commission will then gather the information and compile a report.