MPSC SLEIGHT OF HAND

Aside

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.