A Letter to Michigan Legislators About Abusive Utility Practices

Nanci Rose Gerler
Pinckney, Michigan

January 29, 2018

All Members of Michigan State House of Representatives, Energy Policy Committee

RE: Energy Committee hearing of January 30, 2018 and MPSC Case U-18486 Investigation into DTE Shut-Offs

Dear Energy Policy Committee Member,

In your investigation into violation of shut-off protocols by DTE: The scope and breadth of audacious mendacity, cruelty and brutality by a corporate monopoly turned tyranny, will spawn a “me, too” response far greater than the Flint Water Crisis and Larry Nasser scandals. For the beleaguered customers subject to their atrocities, there has been no satisfactory response or recourse from DTE nor the MPSC, whose “service to the public” is illusory. Complaints and entreaties to the corporation yield no results, only perpetuation of the standardized lies they portray as “truth” through repetition. The MPSC serves as defenders and enablers of DTE, echoing the programmed responses provided to them to the degree that MPSC staff sound exactly like DTE employees.

The MPSC has diffused and refused legitimate complaints of outrageous and egregious actions against consumers with responses like “We regulate rates, not business practices”. Personal and anecdotal experiences recount unjustified and retaliatory behaviors by DTE more often associated with organized crime syndicates and fascist governments than “standard business policies”.

Customers who object to the installation of the misnamed smart meters for many of the justifiable reasons (such as threats to health, safety of home and property, privacy, security, accuracy, and excessive costs) are subject to heinous treatment. The experiences of residents of the Glennbrook Beach Association (GBA), located in the Pinckney Recreation Area in northwest Washtenaw County, illustrates the extreme measures DTE has used to suppress opposition.  Upon notification in July 2016 of the forthcoming AMI installation, over three quarters of the forty homeowners sent a polite certified letter to DTE, requesting to retain their analog meters (as allowed by Consumers Energy). The majority of homes in this small private lakeside enclave are seasonal summer homes or cottages with some structures almost one hundred years old, which are surrounded by a land conservancy and state land. Generations of families have lived here and the majority of residents are elderly retirees on a fixed income, who wished to retain the pristine nature of their long time community environment, without the interference and issues of a wireless mesh network.

A standard form letter sent by DTE was the only reply. Residents posted legal notices, and in some cases locked meters as the only prevention to unwanted installation. In early 2017, DTE cut off locks to six homes and installed AMI meters with no notification to the residents. Phone calls of protest to DTE were ignored. On July 24, 2017 everything changed, when the GBA was subject to a military style tactical operation by DTE, deploying a convoy of ten DTE, contractor and private security vehicles to storm the private community. Power was cut at the pole to over a dozen homes of customers paid current, most of whom had received no communication from DTE since the aforementioned form letter almost a year prior. This orchestrated maneuver was staged and documented with photographs by rude and intimidating workers who thrust letters into hands or onto homes – the first notification of shut-off most residents had received. All this occurred while over 80,000 regional DTE customers still awaited power restoration after a high wind-event the previous night. This indicates a gross misallocation of resources and priorities.

Residents were shocked and traumatized by the callous cruelty of the workers who took obvious delight in cutting power, water and sanitary capacities. (GBA is on a well and electrical grinder sewer system). Scrambling to restore power, residents faced excruciating long waits on the phone (often 1.5 to 3 hours). All affected residents ordered the ‘opt out’ meter but many were informed that ‘opt outs’ were “out of stock, back ordered, unavailable for 3 to 4 weeks”, or it was “too late and they had to accept a ‘smart meter’ to have service”. However, when the DTE installer arrived the next day, he had both standard and ‘opt out’ meters for orders placed, and acknowledged that ‘opt out’ meters are ‘smart meters’ with the radio turned off  – which could be programmed on-site or remotely.

DTE’s rationale for the illegal power shut-offs was that “locking devices on meters posed health and safety hazards to the customers and neighbors”. The DTE installer proceeded to affix tamper proof locks on utility boxes (homeowner property) accessible only by DTE. This refutes DTE’s justification as spurious while imposing genuine health, safety and sanitation hazards on hapless residents without electricity, water & sewer for 2 to 8 days.

DTE’s ‘shock and awe’ strong-arm tactics forced the remainder of the residents into compliance, to avoid unwanted and unwarranted shut-off. The use of “hired goons and hired guns” (contractors and security) is never justified, especially when no aspect of the five-step process for standard shut-off protocol was adhered to.

To add insult and injury, within six days of installation my ‘opt-out’ meter was intentionally re-programmed to operate as a radio transmitting ‘smart meter’. As an extremely electro-hypersensitive individual, I experienced immediate negative health symptoms, which alerted me to the change. A neighbor confirmed that she had seen a DTE vehicle on the property the day prior (a Sunday afternoon), when there were no new orders pending. DTE did not change the meter out for six weeks, during which time both myself and my cat were debilitated by serious illness and symptoms caused by the transmitting meter. My cat’s vomiting ceased as soon as the meter was replaced with a new ‘opt-out’ meter, but he had lost one third of his normal body weight. I also lost weight due to constant nausea and sleeplessness, and it took months to recover from symptoms.

Another resident’s ‘opt out’ meter was fully defective, never registering a kilowatt since installation. This resulted in extremely high estimated bills that bore no relation to years of usage history. Hours of phone calls and emails yielded nothing but frustration and aggravation, with threat of service shut-off for non-payment of inaccurate, bloated bogus bills. He was charged $9.99 in advance for a service call to diagnose the defect. After several calls and several days, the installer did not show up for several scheduled appointments. When he finally arrived he did not have the diagnostic device necessary and simply switched to a new meter. The billing situation was unresolved by the time the seasonal resident left, because of DTE’s “continuing computer billing issues”. Immense time and energy was expended over a defective meter that was unwanted and unneeded, since such problems had not occurred with his long time analog meters.

None of the initial customers who were refused ‘opt-outs’ received them. Others who called to order them were forced to leave a message with no subsequent response or follow up. Residents have concluded that DTE is the worst company they have ever dealt with, yet have no recourse due to the state imposed monopoly. This situation allows DTE to exploit, abuse, and extricate unjustified monies from their captive customers – as exemplified by the extortionary fees charged for the ‘opt-out’ meters. Customers have the right to read and report their own meters but must pay to have them read by contractors who drive their own vehicles, and whose meager compensation in no way justifies the $9.80 monthly fee.

As long-standing paying customers who denied consent to install a new meter, we were subjected to bullying, intimidation, trickery, harassment, trespassing, destruction of property, and unjustified shut-off. Since ‘smart meter’ installation, other residents and their companion animals have experienced debilitating health effects – one dog and two cats have subsequently died.

DTE must be held responsible and accountable for their numerous transgressions against the paying public, who deserve redress and remuneration for the difficulties caused by the improper shut-offs, which constitute abuse by the utility. The report recently submitted to your committee by DTE is a work of fiction created by these masters of mendacity, and must be independently investigated and verified. As a former Ann Arbor resident who has dealt with DTE over these issues since 2012, I can attest that they lie and deceive with consistency, ie “that’s my story and I am sticking to it”.

The abusive conduct endemic to DTE necessitates the passing of bill 4220 to provide analog meter choice and protect the rights, health, safety and financial well being of DTE’s customer base (never a priority to DTE). Governed by greed and need for excessive profits, their $30 billion net worth allows them deep pockets to influence media, MPSC and politicians. The threatening and intimidating non-protocol shut-off letters (received after the fact), referred customers to call a phone number – which is the hot line to report energy theft tampering or fraud – falsely implying wrong-doing on the part of the customer.

Please use the power vested in you by the people to censure and penalize DTE, and compensate injured parties. Grant the freedom of meter choice to the citizens that elected you by representing their interests, over those of the self-serving monopoly utility corporations.

Respectfully submitted,

Nanci Rose Gerler

 

2 thoughts on “A Letter to Michigan Legislators About Abusive Utility Practices

  1. Nanci, Thank you so much for writing this letter. These things need to be spoken of out in the open. Your letter is very powerful and I hope our Representatives start taking all of us more seriously as a result.

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