Bipartisan legislation lets homeowners choose, avoid opt-out fees
Utility customers in Michigan would have the option of choosing between a new, advanced meter and existing traditional equipment to measure their home energy usage under legislation introduced Thursday by Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, and Rep. Rose Mary Robinson, D-Detroit. The bill would put into force an opinion by Attorney General Bill Schuette that the utility companies lack the authority to charge fees to customers that opt out of an advanced metering program, which was dismissed this week by the Michigan Public Service Commission.
“Attorney General Schuette is rightly concerned for Michigan residents’ privacy and security on the smart meter issue and I appreciate his leadership to protect the people of our state,” Rep. Glenn said. “I am happy to sponsor House Bill 4916 to overturn the Public Service Commission’s rejection of his position so that electric customers can choose a metering option that they are comfortable with and want.”
Electric companies are transitioning to the advanced, or “smart,” meters to capture and transmit usage information in real-time so the utility can manage the power grid needs and delivery. The smart meter initiative has raised cyber-security concerns, as well as issues about customers’ private information, prompting Rep. Glenn’s solution to provide a choice.
“Smart meter data provides a remarkably intimate picture of a home’s electrical usage, and we've seen examples of this data shared, sold, and mishandled,” said Rep. Glenn, vice chair of the House Committee on Energy Policy. “There is already plenty of data sharing going on in our wired-in world, but we can decide to limit those intrusions by not participating in those services or companies. Moreover, it is a legitimate cyber-security concern that machines that can shut off electricity in our homes are computerized and connected to the Internet. For a basic life necessity such as electricity, where participation is not a choice, consumers still must have the freedom to choose.”
HB 4916 will provide that freedom by:
Allowing customers to opt out of having a smart meter installed on their property if they purchase their own traditional meter;
Prohibiting utilities from penalizing customers who opt out of the service through fees or service connection, while allowing the company to charge a fee of no more than $5 a month in some cases; and
Requiring certain privacy and security measures, including encryption, on smart meter data.
The introduction of Rep. Glenn’s legislation comes at a perfect time, since the Michigan Public Service Commission just this week decided not to act on Attorney General Bill Schuette’s effort to block a utility company from charging a smart meter opt-out fee.
Schuette argued that without a legal tariff in place a company has no authority to charge the fee, making it either free for consumers to opt out of the smart meter program or suggesting that the complete program should be postponed until such authority is created.
Rep. Glenn’s HB 4916 is cosponsored by Republican Reps. Jim Runestad, Lee Chatfield, Peter Lucido, Tom Hooker, Martin Howrylak, Tom Barrett, Tim Kelly, Michael McCready and Ken Goike. Democrat cosponsors are Reps. Robinson, Scott Dianda, LaTanya Garrett, and Sarah Roberts.