DTE's opt-out plan for smart meters will come at a price
In response to a growing controversy surrounding DTE Energy’s decision to install advanced energy meters in its customers’ residences, the utility has developed an opt-out program.
Opting out will come at a cost to those that request it — with an initial opt-out fee coupled with a monthly surcharge.
DTE filed the details of its program July 31 with the Michigan Public Service Commission, which must approve it before it can be enacted, said Judy Palnau, spokeswoman for the commission.
File photo | AnnArbor.com
The so-called “smart” meters — which wirelessly distribute information about electricity consumption — allow the Detroit-based utility to remotely monitor power outages and allow customers to track their usage.
Should an individual decide they do not want a smart meter on their residence, they would be charged an $87 initial fee and then a $15 per month surcharge.
The fee and surcharge are intended to cover the cost of switching the smart meter out with a new digital meter, and for the labor hours required to manually read the standard digital meters for billing purposes.
“Anyone who chooses to opt out should have to bear the costs,” Singer said.
For those that express to the utility that they don’t want a smart meter at their residence, a brand new digital meter that looks extremely similar to the advanced model will be installed, Singer said. The digital meter does not emit a radio frequency.
Installing an old analog meter would not make sense as they’re outdated and not manufactured anymore, Singer said.
DTE plans to expand smart meters to all of its customers. The utility began installing the meters this year, beginning with Washtenaw County.
So far, DTE has installed about 48 percent of the 235,000 Washtenaw County customers destined for the smart meters, Singer said. Overall, DTE has installed about 825,000 smart meters to date.
It plans to have a total of 1.2 million meters installed by the end of 2013. DTE estimates it will cost $447 million for 2.6 million meters to serve its electric customers, and is projecting a savings of $65 million per year with the new technology.
About 1,000 customers have contacted DTE with questions about how to opt out of the smart meter program, Singer said in an interview with AnnArbor.com Friday.
At a public meeting in May when Ypsilanti Township officials placed a moratorium on the installation of smart meters until a statewide health study concluded, DTE representative Bob Sitkauskas also reported the same number of complaints.
An investigation by the MPSC that concluded this summer into the radio frequency emitted by the smart meters determined that the health risks are “insignificant.”
A contingent of local residents is continuing to advocate against the smart meters, including Ann Arborite and local psychic Nanci Gerler.
Gerler said she’s developed a heart condition since the smart meters were installed in her southwest Ann Arbor neighborhood. Although her home does not yet have a smart meter, Gerler said she’s not going to let DTE take her analog meter away.
Calling DTE’s opt-out policy, including the additional fees, a “bully mentality,” Gerler said she feels DTE is trying to discredit the people who speak out against the company by calling them an “emotional minority.”
“I can’t think of anything more emotional than your health and well-being,” Gerler said. “DTE has failed to offer — nor has MPSC held their feet to the fire — to prove any cost-efficacy to this whatsoever. My quality of life in and around my neighborhood has declined dramatically since the install.”
Residents in communities that do not yet have smart meters installed cannot opt out of the program until the advanced meters are announced in the market, Singer said.
The DTE opt-out plan for its smart meter program is scheduled for a pre-hearing Sept. 10, Palnau said. It must go before an administrative law judge for a decision before going to the MPSC for a vote.
There is no timeline available at this point for when the opt-out program will become available.
All of the events in the process are public meetings, Palnau said. Public comment can be submitted directly to the MPSC online.
Jackson-based Consumers Energy is also in the process of implementing advanced meters to its customer base, but has yet to file plans for an opt-out program to the MPSC.
Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.