Saturday, March 07, 2015

Rep. Yanez hears concerns about 'smart meters' at Sterling Heights meeting

Rep. Yanez hears concerns about 'smart meters' at Sterling Heights meeting

State Rep. Henry Yanez and the Michigan Public Service Commission hosted a meeting Feb. 13 to discuss Advanced Metering Infrastructure, or smart meters. Source photo/Sean Delaney
There were many concerns voiced about the installation of "smart meters" on residential homes during a public forum Feb. 13 at the Sterling Heights Public Library, but issues of health, safety and privacy topped the list.

"This is a complicated issue," said State Rep. Henry Yanez, who hosted the meeting in cooperation with Sterling Heights and the Michigan Public Service Commission after concerns about the Advanced Metering Infrastructure meters were raised at recent City Council meetings.

Unlike traditional electric meters that merely record power use -- and then must be read in-person once a month by a meter reader -- smart meters measure consumption in real time. By being networked to computers in electric utilities, the new meters can signal people or their appliances to take certain actions, such as reducing power usage when electricity prices spike.

But the very interactivity that makes smart meters so attractive also makes them vulnerable to hackers, because each meter essentially is a computer connected to a vast network that some argue will be used to monitor residents' activities.

"We've heard concerns from our constituents in communities like Sterling Heights for a number of years about the deployment of smart meters," said Michael Byrne, legislative liaison for the MPSC. "In response, the MPSC launched an investigation in 2012 on a number of issues related to smart meters, including privacy. As part of that investigation, we took a look at the type of data the utilities would be collecting and their practices for handling that data. The fact is companies have had sensitive customer information that they've collected for years, prior to the deployment of smart meters."

Byrne, who participated in the discussion via speaker phone, argued that the data collected via smart meters would be used by utility companies to determine how much electricity a customer is using, not what they're using it for or why.

"The information that is transmitted over the wireless network back to the utility company doesn't tell about a specific appliance that's being used or what kind of activities a customer is doing," he said. "It only transmits data about how much electricity is being consumed at that time."

In addition to privacy, several Macomb County residents who oppose the installation of smart meters on their homes argued that the devices represent a health hazard, noting that other communities have reportedly banned the meters after residents who had the devices installed became ill.

"We're not saying that people aren't experiencing health issues, and we certainly feel for those people, but at the same time there's no ability to actually prove that there is some sort of scientific link between the two (illness and smart meters)," Byrne said. "But even with that being said, the MPSC is requiring the utility companies to offer some kind of opt-out option. It's a cost-based option, but it's there for customers who would rather not have the wireless transmission take place on their meters."

According to Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool, the opt-out program provides residential utility customers with an option of having a non-transmitting digital meter installed at a cost of $67.20 for the AMI opt-out initial fee, plus $9.80 per month for the opt-out monthly charge.  Continued...

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