March 16th, 2012 – In their responses today to the MPSC Order, both DTE and Consumers Energy fail to present a concrete smart meter opt-out proposal. On February 17th, DTE spokesman Len Singer was quoted in Michigan Tech News as stating that his company would provide an opt-out proposal “in a filing next month”. A spokesman for Consumers made a similar statement. Instead both companies now say they will present such a proposal as part of the rate setting process (no estimated date) and that any such proposal shall require the opt-out customers to bear a whole laundry list of possible costs that may be occasioned by their opting out.
The MPSC had given the public a month following the utility company submissions to express their comments. Yet we find that our month will almost certainly be up long before we learn of any concrete opt-out proposal. And it was the issue of opt-out, more than any single other issue, that caused the Commission to open this docket in response to the repeated urging of municipal governments.
The utilities justify their long list of potential opt-out charges because of PA286 (2008), MCL 460.6, which requires no subsidy for any class of customers
What is NOT mentioned is a whole laundry list of special costs, not needed to maintain basic electricity service, which will be occasioned in order to supply certain other customers with the alleged ‘benefits’ of smart meter technology. IF OPT-OUT CUSTOMERS ARE TO BEAR ANY EXTRA COSTS NEEDED TO SERVICE THEM, SHOULD THEY NOT, BY THE SAME TOKEN, BE SPARED ALL THE EXTRA COSTS THE UTILITY INCURS TO SERVICE THE CLASS OF CUSTOMERS WHO CHOOSE TO ENJOY THE ALLEGED ‘BENEFITS’ OF THE AMI SYSTEM?
Now the utility will no doubt argue that “Advanced Metering Infrastructure” (AMI) is now their “standard platform” and that those customers who wish to deviate from the “standard platform” should bear any additional costs involved. But wait a minute – what gave the utility the right to create a platform that goes way beyond its traditional function of providing electrical energy and then call that the “standard”? Did the marketplace give them that right? Clearly not. No evidence has been presented by either company that any research was done before deployment to see if customers wanted this new technology. There is no evidence we have seen that any utility customers ever asked for these AMI features or that any have expressed their appreciation for these features once they got their ‘smart’ meter.
Did the MPSC give the utilities the right to make AMI their standard platform. We have been repeatedly informed that MPSC made no such decision. Rather the MPSC’s repeatedly stated position has been that “we do not interfere with the utility’s business practices”.
Did federal legislation give them that right? Again the answer is no. The “Energy Act of 2005” and the “Energy Independence Act of 2008” both specified that smart meters were to be ‘voluntary’. Yet nobody has been asked to ‘volunteer’ to date.
So it would appear that DTE and Consumers have taken it upon themselves to adopt AMI as their standard. In so doing they have brought into being a product without a market. Yet those of us, including the majority of all utility customers, who never asked for or wanted this technology, are to be forced to pay for its costs. Their plan evidently is that ALL their customers pay the AMI costs and then those who opt out of it should also pay the costs of opting out of it, while enjoying none of the supposed benefits of AMI.
We think a much more appropriate and just allocation of costs would be for all utility customers to be given a clear choice between AMI and traditional service. Then those who choose the AMI service should pay any extra costs occasioned by their choice – including the cost of the smart meters, the labor to install them, the costs of radio receivers on the poles, the costs of the whole new main office system that communicates with these new meters and so on. None of these costs should be borne by those who opt to maintain their traditional service.
Then the utility could clearly say they are not asking either class of customers to subsidize the other class – in conformity with Public Act 286.