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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!

click to Donate

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September 20th, 2017 – In a newsletter to his constituents in Michigan’s 7th Senate District, Senator Colbeck reports that he is receiving huge numbers of complaints about unreasonable shutoffs of electric service because of smart meter disputes. Many of these shutoffs are happening even when there has been no locking of meters or attempts to block installers.

Colbeck beautifully sums up the whole issue with this “The MPSC says citizens have a choice. But choosing between having electricity or not having electricity, as hundreds of people in the 7th District and across the state are finding out, is no real choice at all. It is coercion.”

Read his whole opinion in his newsletter HERE.

Please also check out our home page here.

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MARCH 14TH, 2017 – A THIRD HEARING ON THE METER CHOICE BILL AND A GREAT PRESENTATION ON ELECTRIC CHOICE BY THE MACKINAC CENTER FOR PUBLIC POLICY.   Because there had been concerns expressed by committee members about possible shifting of costs from opt-out customers to smart meter customers, today’s hearing in the Michigan House Energy Committee began with a special presentation by Richard Meltzer, a retired PhD statistical researcher and consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy. Dr. Meltzer had also participated as an intervener in the MPSC case U-17053, the case in which the present opt-out fees for DTE were determined. Key testimony included Meltzer’s assertion that the opt-out fees determined in that case were punitive, designed not to recover costs but to discourage opt-outs, and that DTE has been very selective in attaching certain costs to classes of customers while not doing so in other cases, in order to suit its own purposes. He provided specifics in the form of exhibits from the U-17053 case to back up his assertion that the net cost shift between smart meter customers and opt-out customers had been overwhelmingly in the direction of burdening the opt-out customers.

A decision was made to defer voting on the merits of the meter choice bill to allow more time to address concerns of some committee members. Rep Glenn offered an amendment to modify the text of HB 4220,  primarily to remove water meters from this bill thereby limiting this bill to energy utilities (electric and gas) that are regulated by the Michigan Public Services Commission. The definition of “traditional meter” was also improved to remove any ambiguity that “traditional meter” could mean anything other than an analog meter. The amendment of the bill’s text was approved unanimously, with understanding that a separate bill will be introduced for the smart water meters.

The Mackinac Center presentation, by Jason Hayes, was a plea for free market principles in the electricity markets. Examples were given that in states where electric provider choice was not capped at 10% (including Michigan between 2000 and 2008) electric rates were much lower than in states where there was no choice or choice capped. In the questions following this presentation Rep Kivella asked if Mr. Hayes believed it was appropriate for smart meter opt-out rates to be set at an arbitrary figure by this legislative committee of “largely non experts” or by the Public Service Commission. The response was that “just at a gut level I don’t like the idea of trusting a Public Service Commission except where you have to, and in this case, setting electricity rates you have to.” He indicated that he would prefer a market based setting of all rates but that the PSC is the system we have.

After the Mackinac Center presentation there were more public comments on the meter choice bill. Complete video of this hearing here.

 

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(Editor’s note: Rep Gary Glenn, sponsor of
the new bill is also now Chairman of the
House Energy Committee and promises
a hearing this session)

by Clayton Cummins, WILX News 10, Lansing
(full article linked below)

February 8th, 2017 – “There’s a move in the state legislature to get rid of fees that utilities charge to customers who want to keep their “old meters”.

This bill hasn’t been formally introduced just yet and Representative Gary Glenn (R-Midland) is working to get support for it.

… In addition to waiving the opt-out fees, the legislation would allow home owners to self-read their meter by just taking a picture of it and sending it in.

The utility could check the meter quarterly to confirm they’re not being misled.

Rep. Glenn tells News 10 the choice should be up to the home owner.”

“As long as those utilities are a state privilege monopoly given the right exclusively to deliver electricity, then we are going to protect homeowners from that kind of monopoly policy,” said Rep. Glenn. “Trying to force certain technology on homeowners against their will or if they refuse to have it installed, charge them.”   More

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UPDATE ON MICHIGAN COURT OF APPEALS DECISIONS

by Vigilant Dave
July 26th, 2015

Justice iconsThis past week we saw first an unfortunate decision in the Sheldon smart meter appeal. That was the case in which the Court had found in April of 2012 that a Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) decision on smart meters did not have any substantial factual support. The Court had ordered the MPSC to do the case over and this time to consider all aspects of smart meters, including the “risks and burdens” on customers and the ”experience in other states.” But the Commission chose to defy the court’s order and consider only the effect of smart meters on utility rates. The Commission also chose to exclude the very interveners who could have presented evidence on the issues the appeals court wanted considered.

David Sheldon brought an appeal as one of the excluded interveners, essentially arguing that the Commission was in contempt of court. A panel of three judges heard the case, which was not the panel that had earlier ordered the Commission to consider all the aspects. This panel actually found no problem with the Commission’s conduct! They failed, in their written opinion and order, to state any logical basis for finding that the Commission had carried out the earlier order and should not be found in contempt.

That decision may be read here.

A second decision this week was on a Motion for Reconsideration filed by the MPSC on the Consumers Energy case. This was the case, known as Rison et al, filed by a group of 16 Consumers customers from the Muskegon area. The Commission had been ordered back in May to redo a contested case involving their decision to approve funding and an opt-out plan for Consumers Energy customers. The scope of the remand was  limited to rate issues, with no indication that the Commission need consider health or privacy concerns. And no requirement that the Commission need allow the Consumers customers who brought this case to participate in the remand hearings.

The MPSC wanted the Court to reverse that decision on grounds they had already thoroughly examined smart meter issues and there was no need for further inquiry. In this matter the majority of the justices simply denied the motion, so that the earlier order remained in effect and the majority made it clear that the scope of the case would remain limited as earlier ordered.

But this time something happened that was not business as usual. Judge O’Connell, who had participated in that earlier decision, filed a dissenting opinion in which he actually expressed his view that the scope of the earlier order should be expanded to specifically include health and privacy issues. He stated that due process requires that customers who have smart meter concerns have a forum in which to present evidence to back up their concerns. He also questioned the justice of charging opt-out fees, questioned the objectivity of the MPSC, questioned the propriety of the Attorney General representing both sides in a contested case and opined that it was time for the Michigan Supreme Court to get involved. It must be stressed this was a dissenting opinion and in no way was it the order of the court. But at least it gives us some reason for hope that we are beginning to change minds.

 That colorful dissenting opinion can be read here.

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three judges panelSome of the Consumers customers who appealed may take some comfort in the Court’s decision to remand one small part of their case to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) for reconsideration. It is with some reluctance, therefore, that I write this story. On April 30th, 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals (MCOA) issued a decision concerning the twin appeals that had been filed against the decision of the MPSC that, in turn, had both approved overall funding for the smart meter system and also approved a schedule of fees for persons wishing to opt-out of a transmitting smart meter. This decision may be found under the “Legal” menu tab on this website.

One appeal was by Michigan’s Attorney General and concerned his claim that when the MPSC made a decision allowing Consumers to recover the overall costs of its smart meter program from customers, that decision had not been properly supported by evidence on the record. The second appeal was by a group of 16 Consumers customers from the Muskegon area in which this same overall cost recovery was challenged as unsupported by the evidence. Also challenged was the inadequacy of the so called Consumers ‘opt-out’ tariff which, the appeal claimed, allows Consumers to force all their customers to have a smart meter, either with radio on or radio off. The two appeals were consolidated by the court and heard during one oral argument and decided by one court order.

The Attorney General’s appeal was denied altogether on grounds that he had apparently already signed off on funding the smart meter program as part of a settlement deal. In that settlement agreement, the AG had specifically exempted questions concerning the smart meter program to be decided at a later date. But the amount of revenue approved in the settlement included the amounts needed for the smart meter program. The Court took the position that MPSC’s only authority with respect to smart meters was to approve or not approve rates and, since the rates had already been approved, the AG’s appeal was held to have no merit.

The appeal of the Consumers customers, like that of the Attorney General, raised the issue that there was wholly inadequate evidence on the record to support the MPSC’s decision to approve overall cost recovery for the smart meter program. But, unlike the AG’s appeal, the Consumers customers had not signed off on these overall program costs. They had not participated in the original hearing of the case before the MPSC. The Court did not even comment on the argument of the Consumers customers that costs for the overall smart meter program had not been supported by appropriate evidence on the record. The Consumers appeal brief may be found under the “Legal” menu tab on this website.

The Consumers appeal also challenged the very idea of opt-out fees, arguing that the MPSC should have considered an alternative opt-in approach. Regrettably, the issue that any true opt-out must allow customers to keep or get back their mechanical analog meters was not even raised in the appeal. Raising this issue would have supported another argument that Consumers customers are getting little or no benefit by joining the ‘opt-out’ program. The appeal of the Muskegon Consumers customers was denied for the most part, except for a question as to the amount of the opt-out fees. Not whether there should be opt-out fees, but just the question of the amount of those fees. For that one narrow issue the Court remanded the case back to MPSC to develop a competent body of evidence to support whatever opt-out fees it might ultimately set after such a review.

The Consumers appeal also raised a Fourth Amendment argument but left out a key point necessary to win such a point. Ordinarily the Fourth Amendment is applied to actions of law enforcement or to the actions of other government agencies. In order to have it apply to a private entity, such as an investor owned public utility, it is necessary to demonstrate that the private entity is what is called a “state actor” in the case law. Such a demonstration was not made in the appeal brief at all and not made in a convincing manner in the reply brief or the oral argument. This panel chose to ignore the Fourth Amendment argument, unlike the panel that heard the DTE opt-out case two months earlier.

Sadly the appeals court stated that the decision whether to allow the Consumers customers to participate in the remanded case would be up to the MPSC. The MPSC is already on record that these customers should not participate since they were not participants in the original hearings. The MPSC also has a track record of excluding people from a remanded DTE case on similar grounds.

So what will come of all this? The case will be sent back to MPSC for a rehearing of the opt-out fee question, but, in all likelihood, no participation by these appellants. The same folks who didn’t think the issue was all that important the first time around will be the only ones allowed to introduce evidence the second time around. The MPSC will go through the motions of fulfilling the Court’s Order and will almost certainly, in the end, again approve the same opt-out fees approved the first time. Nothing will have been gained, except perhaps to make the MPSC work harder to achieve the same outcome.

Did this appeals court make smart meters mandatory? Absolutely not! The appeals court in this case, as in the earlier reported DTE case, was constrained, when reviewing the actions of an administrative agency, to only consider whether the agency did anything wrong. They could not get into the broader issues of whether customers have a valid complaint about what they are being subjected to. The Court based its opt-out decision on the MPSC not having the authority to tell a utility what kind of meters to use. The appeals court stated, in these two cases, that MPSC only has the authority to set the rates for whatever Consumers or DTE wants to do. This is good because it deprives both utilities of the argument that their smart meter programs are mandatory because the MPSC ordered it. It leaves both utilities in the position of making their programs mandatory solely on their own say-so.

The silver lining: The door is now open for individual utility customers, acting singly or as a group, to go into one or more of the state’s circuit courts and argue that Consumers (or DTE) has no legal authority to force smart meters on non-consenting customers! If such a legal action were successful at the circuit court level it would doubtless land in front of this appeals court in due course. But the appeals court, when reviewing the decision of a circuit court has much broader discretion to look at all the issues, including constitutional issues.

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March 3rd, 2015 – Sterling Heights City Council to Request Legal Opinion from Michigan’s Attorney General.
By unanimous consent of Council, at their February 28th meeting, the city administration has drafted a new smart meter resolution. This one calls for a legal opinion from Michigan’s Attorney General as to whether Sterling Heights, or any home rule city, has the legal power to enact a smart meter ordinance. Councilman Romano made the proposal and gave a full update to Council on the city’s smart meter efforts, beginning with the unenforceable 2012 moratorium. His talk can be viewed in the below video:

Councilman Romano w counter(Click here to bring up the video of entire Council meeting, then fast forward to 2:02:23 to reach beginning of Romano’s statement)

The opinion being requested from the Attorney General asks three questions:

“Whether a Michigan home rule city has the authority to prohibit the installation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (a/k/a Smart Meters) on residences?”

“Whether a Michigan home rule city has the authority to regulate the installation of Smart Meters to protect residents who prefer to retain their electromechanical meter as an alternative to the non-transmitting Smart Meter available under the utility’s opt-out program?”

“Whether a Michigan home rule city has the authority to prohibit the imposition of a fee for those customers who elect to participate in the Smart Meter op-out program?”

To read the full text of the agenda item and proposed resolution, Sterling Heights – Atty Gen Opinion Requested

This resolution is to be voted on tonight, March 3rd. There is little doubt it will pass since Council was unanimous in requesting that it be drafted and it appears to have full support of the city administration and city attorney.

Apparently a request for such a legal opinion must come from a state legislator, so Rep Henry Yanez, who recently chaired a meeting on smart meters, will be requested to make the formal request to Attorney General Bill Schuette.

If the Attorney General indicates that the city has certain powers to act in this matter, even if those powers are somewhat circumscribed, the city seems ready to pass an ordinance that would afford some protection to residential customers. The opinion will, in all liklihood, determine whether we can get other cities to do the same.

Jackie Ryan, a Sterling Heights resident, has been spearheading the citizen protests in Sterling Heights.