By David Sheldon
September 24th, 2016 – Dramatic testimony was heard at a five hour-long hearing of the Michigan Public Utilities Commission on September 22nd. This was about the Commission’s completely revised rules for utility service, proposed under Case U-18120. Participation was amazing – both as to the numbers of people who participated and the quality of their comments. We estimate that there were about 60 protesters present of which some 35 took their turn to testify. Also present were an MPSC staff attorney and a few MPSC staffers. Presiding was an administrative law judge who listened very intently to everything that was said. Though the commissioners were not present, the judge assured us that the commissioners will be reading the transcript.
Everyone who spoke did so with courtesy and stayed on point, relating their personal views or experiences to one or more rules that needed changing or needed to be added. At the same time the vast majority of those who spoke clearly stated that the Commission had not, in their view, been doing its job of protecting the public from bullying utility companies. Many made the point that the Commission has a responsibility under the law to assure safe and adequate utility service to all customers, not just to the majority who are currently not objecting to smart meters. John Tatar made this point very well when he reminded us all that we are living under a republic and not a democracy, so that the rights of all must be taken into account.
The areas of greatest concern were health, privacy and fires. It was brought out that the majority of published peer reviewed research by scientists independent of the industry was to the effect that the type of radiation given off by smart meters is immediately injurious to a small percentage of the public and likely to cause cancer or neurological illnesses over a period of years for nearly all utility customers.
The three rules of greatest concern to participants were (1) Rule 37(1)(a) which outrageously allows a utility to declare any situation “hazardous” at their sole discretion, and to immediately shut off service with no notice and apparently no recourse, (2) Rule 37(1)(i) which allows a utility to shutoff power with suitable notice “where the customer has refused to arrange access … for .. replacement of equipment …” and (3) the lack of any rule requiring the utility to offer an analog opt-out choice. Many pointed out that the ‘hazardous’ designation was being misused by DTE to shutoff customers without notice who had refused a smart meter and padlocked their meter enclosure.
Much of the testimony was highly emotional, detailing the suffering many have endured at the hands of DTE or Consumers Energy. Particularly poignant was that of Jaime Chimner of Cheboygan who had lost the ability to walk because of a digital electronic meter installed by Consumers Energy. Replacing that digital meter with an analog meter allowed her to walk again! But Consumers Energy would not allow her to have the kind of meter that would allow her to walk! They were not interested in letters she presented from two doctors. They said “either let us reinstall the digital meter or we will turn your power off”. This obviously was not an option, so the next day power was turned off and the Chimners endured a winter with no electricity and minimal heat. They will soon be enduring another such winter with no long term remedy in sight!
Another spoke of an elderly lady in the Muskegon area whose uninsured house burned to the ground from a fire the local fire department had identified as caused by a smart meter! The burned out meter that caused this fire was exhibited. Quite a number of others spoke of having been forced to survive on generators for a year or more, or endure a winter without heat, because DTE cutoff of their service on that ‘hazardous’ pretext.
Of the 35 who spoke, only one, representing the Michigan Environmental Council, was in favor of smart meters. Her comments were effectively countered by an engineer from the Muskegon area, who made the point that energy conservation could be accomplished far more effectively by lighter colored roofs on homes and better insulation.
There is still ample opportunity to submit comments on this case, whether you participated in the hearing or not. The Commission will allow public comments and exhibits to be posted to Case U-18120 until 5 pm on October 13th. After that date the Commission will make its decision whether to proceed with these rules or to modify them in response to public objections.
With any new comments that are submitted by writing, it would be wise to refer back to any of the MPSC rules, such as Rule 37(1)(a), Rule 37(1)(i) discussed above, or to Rule 30 on medical emergencies, or Rule 38 with special provisions for senior citizens. These rules (30 and 38) currently do not allow for medical emergencies for senior citizens that want an analog meter. We will have to make that point. We must show the inadequacy of the proposed rules. If folks want to comment about fire safety, privacy or liberty, please try to find a rule to tie the comment to.
As Richard Meltzer reminds us, it would be good to mention, in any health-related comments specific BCBS codes or other medical insurance codes for electrosensitivity, as well as any references to the United States Access Board and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). These documents mention accommodation for ElectroSensitivity based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. http://www.access-board.gov/ http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ Referencing the National Toxicology Program Study on Cancer, released in May would also be very good. http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/results/areas/cellphones/
If we can back up our comments with governmental or industry acknowledgement/accommodation of electrosensitivity and cancer risk, then they cease to be just our opinions.
This commission has not shown itself to be at all conscientious about protecting the public. The Governor, who is pushing hard for smart grid, appointed them. The Commission also includes one who was recently the lobbyist for Consumers Energy, a clear conflict of interest. So nobody should naively believe this Commission is highly likely to do the right thing. If they were smart they would get out in front of all this and introduce some good changes to the rules. That might benefit them by reducing the chance we have to persuade the legislature to enact reform. But they are far more likely to do what they have always done – the bidding of the utilities, Governor Snyder and other powerful moneyed lobbyists.
You might ask, with such long odds, why did we bother to come to this hearing. The short answer is that if we did not the utilities and MPSC staffers would be telling legislators that they gave us a chance to voice our objections and hardly anyone showed up. That would hurt our chances of getting the legislature to pass HB 4916, the meter choice bill. It might also hurt our chances in any court cases, particularly since there is a doctrine of exhausting administrative remedies before coming to court. But as matters now stand, legislators will be hearing through the grapevine what a high level of participation we showed.
If the Commission decides to proceed with the rules in their present form, they will go next to a joint committee of the legislature which will have the power to stop the new rules, pending possible further action by the full legislature. This committee is called the “Joint Committee on Administrative Rules” or JCAR for short. Two of the cosponsors of our proposed meter choice bill, HB 4916, sit on that committee. Stay tuned for further details as they develop.
The original call to attend this hearing, by Utility Meter Choice 4 Michigan, together with many comments on that, may be viewed here:
From the Commission Order opening this case: “Written and electronic comments may be filed with the Commission and must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. on October 13, 2016. Written comments should be sent to the: Executive Secretary, Michigan Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 30221, Lansing, Michigan 48909. Electronic comments may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you require assistance, contact Commission staff at (517) 284-8090 or by e-mail at email@example.com. All information submitted to the Commission in this matter will become public information available on the Commission’s website and subject to disclosure. All comments should reference Case No. U-18120. Please do not include information you wish to remain private.”
Those wishing to review all the new proposed rules for comments will find them all here: http://efile.mpsc.state.mi.us/efile/docs/18120/0001.pdf