DETROIT (AP) – Electronic devices that track electricity consumption without a meter reader going door to door are reliable and safe, but consumers should be allowed to opt out, according to a report written for Michigan utility regulators.
Michigan’s largest utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, are bullish on the so-called smart meters and hope to have more than three million installed in the coming years. But critics concerned about privacy and other issues are not as excited.
“Smart meters are quickly becoming the primary replacement meter to the existing electromechanical meters because they are more accurate, enhance outage response and offer opportunities for customer energy management. The traditional electromechanical meter is obsolete and currently not in production,” said a June 29 report by staff at the Michigan Public Service Commission.
The meters transmit information to a remote location by a radio-frequency transmitter. DTE says the meters will virtually eliminate visits by a meter reader, quickly identify outages and give consumers more information about how they use electricity. The commission in January asked staff to investigate all aspects of the meters and invited the public to comment, too.
“We were hearing from a lot of folks and municipalities about concerns they had about smart meters,” commission spokeswoman Judy Palnu said Friday. “Commissioners will review the report and may decide to issue orders. There’s no deadline.”
Perhaps the most significant recommendation is to let people opt out of using smart meters. If utilities claim the meters save money, the commission could allow people to pay less if they have a meter or charge them more if they don’t want one, the report said.
DTE, which hopes to have more than 1.2 million meters in place by the end of 2013, said it is working on an opt-out option.
“We know there is a small, but very vocal, minority of customers who have raised questions about advanced meters,” said Steve Kurmas, president and chief operating officer of DTE subsidiary Detroit Edison.
He said advanced meters “are merely the next generation of utility technology.”
The state attorney general’s office said possibly charging people to opt out raises questions about whether the option would be fair.
The Michigan appeals court in April said the commission in 2010 wrongly allowed DTE to collect $37 million from customers for the meters. The court found there wasn’t enough evidence to justify the rate increase but gave regulators a chance to revisit the issue.
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