Oakland County homeowners, DTE Energy subsidiary fight over smart meters
Dec 18, 2012 (Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A subsidiary of DTE Energy has sued residents in two Oakland County communities for removing smart meters from their homes and replacing the meters with devices they purchased on their own. The utility notes that tampering with such equipment can result in a felony charge.
But the residents, a couple in Addison Township and a couple in Farmington Hills, claim their actions were justified based on health concerns and worries about invasion of privacy, and they say the utility needs their permission to enter their property.
The dispute comes as the Michigan Public Service Commission weighs whether to approve a DTE Energy-proposed plan that would allow customers to opt out of having a smart meter installed by paying an $87 one-time fee and $15 each month. The digital devices, which are a replacement for analog meters, allow utilities to read electric-usage meters remotely.
Smart meter opponents claim the radio frequency radiation signals produced by the devices are dangerous, a charge vigorously opposed by DTE and other utilities, which claim the devices are safe. The technology is similar to that used in cell phones and baby monitors.
Utilities say smart meters can give consumers real-time information about their energy usage and how to reduce it, allow utilities to immediately pinpoint outages and eliminate meter readers. Opponents say the meters could allow their personal usage information to be sold or used against them.
Two Oakland County Circuit judges have issued what appear to be conflicting rulings on motions in the separate cases, which are markedly similar. The lawsuits were filed in April and August by Detroit Edison.
In the case of Ralph and Donna Stenman of Farmington Hills, Oakland County Circuit Judge Rudy Nichols ruled Nov. 30 in favor of a motion filed by the utility, granting a partial summary disposition that says in part that the utility can access the couple's property to do work and makes them responsible for the safekeeping of meter equipment.
But in a case filed against Lillian and Dominc Cusumano, who own property on Kingston in Addison Township, Judge Shalina Kumar denied a similar request from the utility. That case is on hold pending the MPSC ruling on the opt-out plan. DTE says it tried to work with the couple regarding the "illegal removal of the advanced meter" but they refused.
In an affidavit filed in Oakland County Circuit Court on Monday, Donna Stenman said she experienced health problems, including nausea, severe headaches and insomnia after a smart meter was installed on her home Sept. 1, 2011, but that the symptoms diminished or disappeared after the smart meter was removed May 21, 2012. She noted that her son, Tony, who regularly used cell phones, died of a brain tumor in 2004.
"My husband and I have made a decision, based on our son's death and our own medical problems, that we cannot risk continued living in our Farmington Hills home once a 'smart meter' is re-installed on that home," she wrote.
More Details: DTE warning
DTE Energy has a blunt warning on its website, www.dteenergy.com, about tampering with its equipment, including smart meters.
"DTE Energy's equipment, including meters, pipes and wires are designed and installed by trained professionals. Tampering with this equipment exposes you, your family and your neighbors to the risk of electric shock, fire, explosion, injury or even death."
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