By Sen. Patrick Colbeck
7th Senate District
In today’s modern society, we are more dependent upon reliable access to electricity than ever before. That is why the recent actions taken by DTE Energy to shut off power to customers simply because they would like to retain their analog meters is so concerning. Amazingly, customers who fail to pay their bills are protected against a shutoff of their power, but customers who pay their bills and would simply like to retain meters that have worked reliably for decades are having their power shut off. Does this sound fair to you? It doesn’t sound fair to me.
It is my hope that people who don’t have concerns with the new meters can sympathize with those who do and see the problems that need to be fixed in our system. I certainly do, and I have one of the new meters. Many of us do not worry about a “smart house” being hacked in today’s world. In fact, many of us fully embrace the convenience of our new “connected” quality of life paradigm. But freedom matters.
While most don’t suffer health effects from the new meters, imagine if you did. Your home is supposed to be your castle, yet for hundreds of people in Michigan they will instead be forced to live with a device that makes them dizzy or causes health concerns every day of the week. They feel trapped in their own home. To even get a partially deactivated meter they must pay more for something they don’t even want, and if they refuse, their power is being turned off. That is not fair.
Remember, these people are our neighbors. Many of these people are suffering from debilitating chronic illnesses. It is a sad state of affairs when the government mandates that a citizen’s private property rights can be overruled by a utility in this manner.
What makes the latest round of shutoff notices truly concerning is that it is even affecting people who have not blocked access to their meters. While I don’t agree with it, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) rules state the utilities can turn off power to those who physically block their meters from being changed. But that is not the case with most of the people receiving shutoff notices now. These people feel brow-beaten that they are being made to not only allow the new meters to be installed, but to have to also somehow agree to actively endorse the installations they abhor. That is not just adding insult to injury. In our supposedly regulated market it is truly unconscionable. I know of one couple who has been without power for years, who are elderly and disabled. When will enough of this be enough? What harm are they causing? None.
The best way to resolve this issue is to provide consumers with choices regarding who supplies them with electrical power. If utilities actually had to compete for business, they would likely be much more responsive to the desires of their consumers. Sadly, today 90 percent of the electricity market in Michigan is reserved for “regulated utilities.” Only 10 percent of the market is open to choice. Those on the “choice” list not only have the opportunity to choose their energy source, they also pay about 20 percent less than those of us who are relegated to the regulated utility for our area. How do you get on the “choice” list? Get in line. Currently, about 15 percent of the market is on a waiting list.
The MPSC says citizens have a choice. But choosing between having electricity or not having electricity, as hundreds of people in the 7th District and across the state are finding out, is no real choice at all. It is coercion. The MPSC needs to change their rules regarding meter choice — and change them now.
Just because many people don’t have an issue with the new meters is no reason to allow for state-sanctioned tyranny. Regardless of your personal thoughts on the new meters, I hope you will join me in asking the MPSC for a change on behalf of your friends and neighbors whose only “crime” is to want to control the activities occurring at what is supposed to be their one true safe sanctuary — their home.
Sen. Patrick Colbeck represents the 7th Senate District, which encompasses the cities of Livonia, Northville, Plymouth and Wayne, as well as the townships of Canton, Northville and Plymouth.