JACKSON, MI – A group of Consumers Energy customers hopes to get rid of the utility’s opt-out fees for people who do not want smart meters installed on their homes.

The group of West Michigan residents, led by Michelle Rison, believes smart meters bring health risks and say the harm of smart meter emissions have been studied by scientists and medical professionals.

On July 25, the group filed a claim of appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals on a state order that will allow Consumers Energy to charge an opt-out fee for those who choose not to have smart meters installed on their homes.

Consumers Energy can charge customers who do not want to participate in the smart meter program with a one-time fee of about $69, according to an order issued June 28 by the Michigan Public Service Commission. For those who want an existing smart meter to be removed for a more traditional meter, Consumers Energy can charge them a one-time fee of about $124.

For all of those in the opt-out program using traditional meters that need monthly reading by Consumers Energy employees, the additional charge will be $9.72 a month, according to the MPSC order.

The additional opt-out charges are justified in covering the additional cost of the company to provide the special equipment and service, according to the MPSC ruling.

A representative from the MPSC was not immediately available for comment Thursday afternoon.

In the press release, the appellants say the World Health Organization/International Agency for Research on Cancer classified radio-frequency electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic” to humans based on an increased risk of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use.

The group also cited privacy issues and interference with medical implants and believe the smart meters will not save money and are not environmentally friendly.

Consumers Energy officials dispute those claims of health and privacy risks, saying smart meters are safe, secure and give an array of benefits to customers.

More than 40 million smart meters already have been installed in the United States, with public service commissions in many states supporting their use as safe and effective upgrades to older technology, said Dennis McKee, communications director for Consumers Energy’s Smart Energy Program.

He said the smart meters reflect the changing needs and lifestyles of customers who want more information and taking more control of their energy use.

Only about 1.05 percent of Consumers Energy customers in the areas receiving smart meters have expressed interest in keeping their older meters, McKee said.

“Smart meters are safe, secure products that help to enhance customer service and control energy costs,” he said in an email. “Unfortunately, the group cites erroneous information and research to leap to conclusions.”

The Michigan Public Service Commission issued a report in July 2012 that said this technology has little health risk and outdoes the current meter system.

The appellants want to preserve customers’ rights to keep and/or restore their analog meters and have the fees eliminated. They feel the opt-out fees are unfair and create a hardship for those on fixed incomes.

“Should the appeal succeed, the MPSC will be ordered to reopen the case to hear the dangers of smart meter evidence, which they have up to now refused,” according to a statement from the group. “As awareness grows and this topic is better understood, people begin to connect the dots to threats to their individual freedoms and their deteriorating health.”

Rison, the lead appellant in the case, was not immediately available for comment Thursday afternoon.

The smart-meter technology is a $750 million investment for Consumers Energy, which says smart meters will allow residents to see exactly how much energy they are using on a real-time basis and adjust usage to cut monthly bills.

So far, more than 100,000 installations have been completed in Muskegon, Oceana, Ottawa and Allegan counties on the west side of state, and the utility’s 1.8 million electric meters in residential homes and small businesses are expected to have smart meter technology by 2019.
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