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February 16th, 2012 – Representative Tom McMillin (R) of Rochester introduced today, along with 8 co-sponsors, proposed smart meter opt-out legislation in the Michigan House of Representatives.  The bill, known as H.B. 5411, contains a whole series of prohibitions against the electric utility companies of the state with regard to what are termed “advanced meters” and directs the Michigan Public Services Commission (MPSC) to enforce these prohibitions.

The bill prohibits any such utility from (a) requiring a customer to accept an “advanced meter”, (b) from refusing to remove one if already installed, or (c) from “imposing any disincentive on a customer for not accepting the installation or use of an ‘advanced meter’.”

For those customers who do accept an “advanced meter”, the bill would prohibit the utility from collecting data from the meter more often than once per month “unless requested by the customer”, and would further prohibit the giving of “any meter use data from an advanced meter to any person other than the utility.”

The bill has been referred to the Energy and Technology Committee.  We are hopeful the Committee will, after due consideration, forward this bill to the full House for an up or down vote.  If the bill should survive all hurdles and become law, we think some powerful protections will have been put in place to protect the property rights and the Fourth Amendment privacy rights of Michigan homeowners.  We very much appreciate the effort Tom McMillin has put forward to get this bill drafted and to muster the support of so many of his colleagues to co-sponsor.

A provision we would very much like to have seen in this bill would be a “community opt-out” as well as an individual opt-out, at least for those communities where smart meters have not already been installed.  The issue is that an individual who opts out only gains partial protection from the possible electro magnetic effects upon his or her health.  He is still immersed in a sea of such radio radiation produced by all the smart meters of his immediate neighbors.  Only a community opt-out, or a statewide ban, would provide real protection against layering more and more radiation on homes that are already bombarded with radio and tv signals, cell phone tower radiation, and WiFi radiation from all the homes in the area.

Two other provisions we don’t see in the bill are a mandate that the MPSC conduct a proper investigation of the health effects of the meters, or a moratorium on further installs pending the results of such an investigation.  We know that the current investigation by MPSC has, despite the pleas of nine city governments, been designed to exclude health effects and to make no provision for halting or slowing ongoing installations.

The bill defines what “advanced meter” means.  We would like to have seen a definition that would encompass all the variations of ‘smart’ metering that a utility might install – so that the utility not be able to escape the requirements of this proposed law just by, for example, turning off the radio feature, while still tracking granular usage data to be uploaded by different means.  We are recommending that a definition be made that is more along the lines of that published by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Still this bill is a start – a big first step.  Our hats are off to Rep. McMillin and his eight Republican colleagues who co-sponsored.  They seem to have focused on the property rights and Fourth Amendment issues. We do not see smart meters as a partisan issue, however, and would hope that Democrats in the House might introduce their own proposal that would broaden the final legislation to include more focus on the health effects and possible remedies for that.

To read the actual proposed legislation, click here.

MPSC SLEIGHT OF HAND

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January 26, 2012, Revised February 3rd Sadly we must report that our earlier optimism concerning the investigation of ‘smart’ meters by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) may not have been warranted.  We thought there was hope they would give us a fair and transparent review of our smart meter complaints.  After all nine city governments had asked for a proper investigation and eight of those governments had specifically mentioned they wanted the health effects thoroughly considered.   Health effects have been a big part of the public uproar.

Yet a careful re-reading of the Commission’s Order of January 12th indicates that health effects were not included in the list of issues to be considered.  And we think we have discovered the reason for this.

The Commission actually defines the scope of its Order by the way in which it summarizes the concerns expressed by the nine city governments.  Instead of an accurate restatement of what the cities are all asking for we see this curious language: “investigate the safety of the physical attachment of a smart meter to a residential dwelling house”.  None of the nine city governments used such a phrase.  Rather nearly all of them had specifically asked for a review of the “health and safety” issues related to smart meters.  The use by the various cities of both the words “health” and “safety” clearly indicates that, in the minds of city officials, these two words mean two different things.

The directions in the Order to the various utilities, and to its own staff when preparing the final report, refer back to the issues as (inaccurately) phrased in the summary of what the cities requested.

(The above two paragraphs were added at the suggestion of one of our members to add additional clarity)

Nearly all of the nine city governments also asked the Commission to put a hold on any further deployments until the Commission could complete a thorough review.  But there is no hold – and the utilities have made it plain they are going forward full speed.  By the time this investigation winds up in June DTE alone might well have installed another half million meters.  If the Commission thought there was any real chance they were going to find the privacy or safety protections inadequate would they not want to prevent any more damage being done until their investigation is complete?

The key to why health effects were excluded from the present study we think is to be found in a study the Commission ordered from its own staff last summer culminating in a report dated August 3rd, 2011.  The report was titled “REPORT ON THE IMPACT OF RADIO FREQUENCY EMISSIONS FROM SMART METERS”.  A link to the full text of that report may be found at the end of this article.

The report concludes with the statement “Staff has concluded that RF emissions from smart meters have been shown to be in compliance with FCC standards and these standards are sufficient to protect people from potential adverse health and safety effects.”  Since the Commission has already made up its mind on this issue they apparently believe there is no point revisiting it now.

The report states “Commission staff chose to include publications from sources it considered to be the most credible.”  This turned out to mean only 6 sources and 2 of those were industry trade associations whose bias is well known. Another failing of this report was that the staff people involved were evidently unwilling to sign their names to it.  This is an issue of responsibility and accountability.  It also means that the public has no way to judge the particular qualifications of the people making these judgments about which sources are “credible” and which are not.

Though there is a rich literature of respectable scientists who have published in professional journals against electromagnetic radiation at non-thermal levels, the staff chose to ignore all of these.   Two of the non industry affiliated sources used  – the World Health Organization (WHO) and Lawrence Berkley National Lab made cautious statements indicating that the possibility of non-thermal health effects could not be ruled out and merited further study. WHO moreover classified electromagnetic radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

Staff’s conclusion includes the words “and safety effects”.  A careful reading of their entire study would show that the question of safety – to the extent that includes issues other than the health effects – was nowhere addressed at all.  A proper consideration of safety effects might include the risk of meters starting fires and the risk that the radiation from the meters might interfere with pacemakers or other sensitive medical equipment.

But there is yet another aspect of this report that is troubling.  The introduction stated that the report was “written in response to health and safety questions from the public concerning RF emissions from wireless smart meters.”  Yet the report was never released to the public, or to those of us who had raised the health and safety questions, nor was it posted on the MPSC’s own website.   We were not aware that staff was working on any such study at the time it was taking place and there was certainly no opportunity for input to the process, or for challenging any of the sources used.

This was in no way an open or transparent process.  The only reason we are in possession of the report now or even know that a report existed was because DTE provided it to the City of Madison Heights recently and the city put it on their public website.

So where does that leave us?  The Commission has now laid out an open process, but that process is to exclude health effects and there will be a powerful temptation to not find any privacy faults in the system because so much money will have been expended already.

Finally the Commission is calling into question its own jurisdiction and its own expertise, implying that it will almost certainly defer to the industry and issue no order that will change anything at the end of the day.

We strongly suspect that unless we can find some way to get the courts or the legislature to intervene, that nothing good will come from this investigation.  We understand that State House Representative Thomas McMillan(R) of Rochester Hills is drafting opt-out legislation.

To read the full report of Commission staff from last August, click here.

MPSC Opens Investigation

January 12, 2012 – Today the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) issued an Order opening an investigation into the health, safety and privacy concerns surrounding ‘smart’ electric meters.  The Commission indicated in its order that the action was in response to objections voiced by individuals at recent public forums and in response to resolutions passed by 9 city governments.   These resolutions were attached as appendices to the Order.  See links at bottom for the Order, the public announcement with explanation how you can comment, and comments posted so far.

The investigation is to run until June with an initial 60 day period in which all electric utilities in the State of Michiganare to file documents stating their Mission and logo of the Michigan Public Service Commissionpositions on the issues in controversy.  Following that will be a 30 day period for public comment in response to the utility company filings.  Finally a period of time is allowed for MPSC staff to sort out all the information and recommend some action to the Commission, possibly culminating in an Order.

The Order asks the utilities to state their position concerning opt-outs and what plans they might have to cover the cost of opt-outs if they intend to offer such a possibility.

Getting such an official investigation started has been one of the primary goals of those of us who oppose the smart meters.  This is what nearly all of the City Councils have asked for – though we would have preferred they enact ordinances banning the devices.

The Order also states that Commission will seek to weigh all the evidence submitted in light of “limitations on our jurisdiction and limitations on our technical competence”

A major concern that we do have about this investigation is that it be rigorous and that the Commission not be too quick to simply defer to the expertise of the industry.  We also do not think it appropriate for the Commission to fail to properly assert the jurisdiction that it clearly does have by statute.

We know that, on the Commission staff, there are many fine public servants who do have expertise and who do share, at least in part, our concerns.  We are hopeful these fine staffers will, to the best of their ability, not allow this investigation to be derailed by political or industry pressures.  We need to help those staffers to keep the investigation on track by keeping up the public pressure and continuing to educate the public and the elected representatives in the state’s capitol.

The Commission’s Order, Case U-17000

The public announcement of the Order with instructions on
how the public may comment.

Public comments posted so far.