About Vigilant Dave

David Sheldon, B.S. in physics and economics, MBA, Certified in Software Engineering Concerned about all kinds of technology and laws that impinge on our freedom and privacy, or take away the choices we should have as free men and women.

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by David Sheldon

March 23rd, 2018 – Setback for Tom Mitchell’s Case. Tom had submitted a formal appeal concerning DTE Electric’s threat to terminate his electric service over his smart meter refusal. His refusal was based on medical evidence that, because of a pre-existing heart condition, the installation of a smart meter could trigger a heart attack. In support of his claim Tom had submitted an affidavit from his personal physician and an affidavit from electrical engineer Bill Bathgate.

Many of you attended the motion hearing on February 1st at the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), where Administrative Judge Lauren Van Steel heard legal arguments as to whether Tom’s case should be heard at all. The attorney for DTE Electric and the attorney for MPSC staff both argued for summary dismissal of Tom’s case putting forth mostly very specious arguments which the judge found not persuasive. Tom held his own very well at that hearing against preposterous arguments from the other parties. Administrative judge Lauren VanSteel was very fair in the way she conducted that hearing and fired hardball questions at the attorneys for DTE and staff, and gave Tom ample opportunity to make his points.

We have waited six weeks for a decision from the judge. The judge has just issued her “Proposal for Decision” (PFD).  In this 27 page document she addresses all the arguments very carefully, but ultimately concludes that a ruling of the Michigan Court of Appeals must control this case. That ruling, on DTE’s opt-out plan in 2013, stated that the type of metering equipment used by a utility is a “management prerogative”, and that the MPSC has no jurisdiction to rule on what meters they can use. That court further concluded, therefore, that MPSC had no obligation to investigate any complaints about the meter, whether based on health claims, privacy or anything else. Judge Van Steel concludes her PFD by asserting that prior ruling of the Court of Appeals makes it necessary for her to recommend the summary dismissal of Tom’s case.

This then goes to the three member Commission appointed by the Governor for final decision. It is likely they will adopt the judge’s PFD as their final decision. It is hard to see how they could do otherwise, given that prior ruling by the appeals court.

This, then, is decision time for Tom’s case. What we need to do is get Tom’s case in front of that appeals court. We would be asking them to reverse the earlier ruling where, we believe, they incorrectly concluded that meter choice was purely a management decision. That ruling cannot be allowed to stand. It cannot be purely a management decision when the meter is located on a customer’s property, not the utility’s property, and where there are far reaching impacts on the customer’s health, privacy and safety from whatever meter choice a utility makes. The MPSC is charged by law with the responsibility to assure delivery of safe electric service. They cannot perform that function where a high court tells them they have no jurisdiction. The prior decision of the Court of Appeals virtually guarantees to a utility the right to deliver unsafe service!

The question now is the best route to follow to get Tom’s case before the Court of Appeals. One way is by direct appeal of the decision the Commission will make on this case. The other way is to start a suit in Macomb Circuit Court seeking a court order to block the installation of a smart meter on grounds that would amount to a deliberate infliction of a harm on a utility customer. And on the grounds the MPSC had already waived its jurisdiction by refusing to hear the case. A circuit judge might well summarily dismiss for the same reason the administrative judge recommended dismissal. But then that ruling could be appealed to the Court of Appeals. There would be advantages in reaching the COA by this route, since that court would have much broader discretion this way then they would on an appeal from an MPSC decision. But this way also would involve higher legal expenses.

Many of you have given generously to help Tom fund his case. Somewhat over $2,000 has been raised so far. But we need to ask all of you who care about the future of smart meter law in Michigan to dig even deeper to provide Tom with more financial support.

We ask that all checks be made out to Tom Mitchell and mailed to Jeanine Deal who will be maintaining records of all contributions.

Those who would like to read the judge’s entire 27 page decision will find it here: https://michiganstopsmartmeters.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/proposal-for-decision-mitchell-case-032318.pdf

 

 

 

 

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by David Sheldon

February 1st, 2018 –t DTE customer Tom Mitchell had a motion hearing before an administrative judge at the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). The hearing room was filled to capacity. Purpose of the hearing was not to hear evidence on the merits of Tom’s formal complaint against electric utility DTE, but to rule on whether Tom’s case could go forward, or be dismissed as both DTE and MPSC staff were requesting. Purpose was also to rule on two motions Tom had submitted, one to set the scope of the case and one to allow out-of-state witnesses to testify via Skype.

Tom had requested a formal hearing on his complaint that DTE had threatened him with shutoff for not agreeing to accept either the standard smart meter or the smart meter with radio turned off. Tom has a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation and has an affidavit from his personal physician that having an electronic meter on his home could harm his health and even possibly cause his death. Tom believes that, under this circumstance, DTE must provide accommodation by allowing him and all others with a similar documented health condition to keep the traditional analog meter.

Administrative judge Lauren Van Steel conducted the hearing, appeared to be a good listener and also asked some hardball questions of both the DTE attorney and the attorney representing MPSC staff. At the conclusion she took all three motions under advisement. She is expected to issue her decision sometime within the next week or two.

Tom had planned to have this writer assist in the presentation, but the judge insisted that since Tom was appearing without an attorney, that he must present his case without assistance. Tom did a fantastic job!

Incredibly, the attorney for MPSC staff argued that all possible health issues had already been addressed in the 2012 report by staff and that there could never be a legitimate reason to take another look at the opt-out policy from a health standpoint, despite there never having been an evidentiary hearing on the health issues. The judge did NOT appear to be buying this line.

If she decides to let Tom’s case proceed, a new date will be set for the evidentiary hearing. This would be the one where testimony would be taken from Tom’s personal physician, experts on the dirty electricity issue and from DTE’s witnesses.

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December 21st, 2017 – Senator Colbeck Calls for Electric Shut-Off Moratorium. Welcomes formal MPSC investigation.

LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, said on Thursday that he welcomed the announcement of a formal investigation into the electric shut-off practices of DTE and called for a moratorium on such practices until the investigation was completed.

“In October our office began to see a big increase in the number of constituents contacting us and complaining about inappropriate shut-off notices and other problems that we reported to the MPSC,” Sen. Colbeck said. “As the months got colder those problems shockingly got worse instead of better. This formal investigation by the MPSC is going to clearly show that people were being threatened with shut-off notices they never should have received, resulting in turn with many of them then having their power inappropriately disconnected. In addition, getting power turned back on also took much longer than it is legally supposed to.

“This has gone beyond just minor billing snafus and has unacceptably created significant stress, hardship, and endangerment for hundreds of people whose simple wish is to pay their bills and receive electric service. Especially in Michigan where people can’t just change their utility provider when they’re treated like this, it is imperative that we hold both our utilities and our oversight 110 percent accountable.”

Now that the extent of the problem is being acknowledged, Sen. Colbeck also called for the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to put a moratorium on DTE’s ability to shut off power to their residential customers until the investigation over the shut-off and billing problems has been completed. Power was wrongly cut for many reasons, but as an example, the investigation notice highlighted that at least 288 customers had their service improperly disconnected because of simple computer-related billing errors over the past six months.

“This investigation is still necessary, but it is already a forgone conclusion that DTE’s computer problems are causing people to have power cut because of internal communication problems within DTE that incorrectly put people at risk for being flagged for shut-off,” said Colbeck. “I’ve had people contact me one week saying they got an inappropriate shut-off notice, were assured the next week that it wouldn’t happen, and then a few days later they would call my office back because DTE had returned to their home threatening shut-off again.

“Until the investigation shows the exact steps that need to be taken to fix all of this, it would be prudent for the MPSC to, at the very least, have to pre-approve all residential shut-offs while this investigation is ongoing. A moratorium would be an even better course of action if simple billing errors that could affect anyone would result in shut-offs that jeopardize ratepayer health and personal safety during our cold winter months.”

Sen. Colbeck said while the main concern is for seniors, especially those who live by themselves, that in today’s high tech world a lack of power impacts everyone.

“Older individuals would be calling from the library asking for help because their VOIP phones would not work with the power off and they had no way to recharge their cell phones,” Sen. Colbeck said. “When they would try to contact DTE they could often only leave a message, but had no working phone for DTE to even call them back on. Those who could not rely on the help of neighbors were significantly impacted.

“But even younger families faced hardships beyond the cold. People’s computers would not work, and their kids were missing school assignments. Burglar alarms were down. Birthday parties and Thanksgiving plans were disrupted. Even for people who received notices but didn’t get shut off, they went through several stressful weeks waiting for the other shoe to drop and were oftentimes afraid to leave their homes unattended for fear of finding their power cut when they returned.”

Sen. Colbeck also highlighted that because the MPSC only knows what it is told that it is critical that people call the MPSC to lodge complaints. If people don’t call, the extent of the investigation will be understated. People should call 1.800.292.9555 for any complaint they have, even if the incident occurred several months ago.

Sen. Colbeck’s previous press release on the matter also drew attention to the fact that the MPSC currently does not formally ask the utilities to report why people have their electric power involuntarily shut off. Sen. Colbeck said he felt that would be an issue that would hamper the investigation and shows the need for changes in reporting.

“State administrative rules need to be rewritten so that something like this can’t happen again,” Sen. Colbeck said. “I believe that the current law requires more detailed reporting than what the utilities are now submitting to the MPSC, but in any event it is clear that the MPSC has the legal ability to now retroactively ask for those details as they conduct this investigation. For example, it has been extremely frustrating for me to see people getting their power turned off because they simply want to keep their analog meter, to then be told that it is a rare occurrence, but then be unable to get the actual data on how frequently it is happening.

“For a start we need to change the rules that allow for such meter-choice related shut-offs, that encourage lax reporting, and that allow utilities to take too long restoring power without experiencing any real ramifications.  Waiting a week to get power restored in the cold is simply too long, especially when the person shouldn’t even be getting their power cut in the first place.”

Sen. Colbeck said that the type of behavior being exemplified by the shut-offs shows why both utility choice and meter-choice urgently need to be reexamined.

“Until people can vote with their feet we’ll continue to see these problems,” Sen. Colbeck said. “People deserve the right to flee poor service when it jeopardizes their health and well-being.”

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DECEMBER 16TH – CALIFORNIA ISSUES CAUTION ON CELL PHONE USE – by Olga Naidenko Ph.D.

This week, California officially issued groundbreaking guidelines advising cell phone users to keep phones away from their bodies and limit use when reception is weak. State officials caution that studies link radiation from long-term cell phone use to an increased risk of brain cancer, lower sperm counts and other health problems, and note that children’s developing brains could be at greater risk.

The state Department of Public Health was forced to release the guidelines in March after a lawsuit by University of California, Berkeley, researcher Dr. Joel Moskowitz. At the time, the department said the guidelines were only a draft, but they now are the state’s official position. The DPH guidelines closely align with EWG’s Guide to Safer Cell Phone Use, published in 2016.  MORE

PLEASE SEE OUR HOME PAGE HERE AND CONSIDER MAKING A DONATION TO MICHIGAN STOP SMART METERS TO HELP US GET THE WORD OUT SO MORE PEOPLE WILL CONTACT THEIR STATE LEGISLATOR AND URGE PASSAGE OF HOUSE BILL 4220 THAT WILL GIVE PEOPLE A MEANINGFUL WAY TO OPT-OUT WITHOUT PAYING EXTORTIONATE FEES!!!

 

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DECEMBER 16TH, 2017 – WE STILL NEED HELP!!!  Two months ago we made an appeal for donations to cover our ongoing costs for flyering, educational efforts and possible newspaper ads. A few of you contributed generously and we appreciate that. But we need more of you to step up and help with this – by donation or by volunteering.

Again, how much we can do will depend on your generosity in donating to us at this time.

If you are angry at what DTE, Consumers Energy and their cronies in state offices are doing to Michigan utility customers, and you appreciate all that we are doing to fight these injustices, then PLEASE HELP US by donation or by volunteering your time!

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