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House committee hears DTE shutoff complaints from smart meter critics

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Some DTE Energy customers say the utility is bullying them for refusing smart meters, and they want the state Legislature to do something about it.

A state House committee heard testimony Tuesday about complaints that DTE wrongly shut off their power. Most of them say it’s because they didn’t want to use a smart meter.

Jamie Chimner of Cheboygan said her power was recently cut off by DTE. She said it was because she didn’t want a smart meter on her house.

“What gives them the right to do that?” she said. “Why do we live in a world where … this smart meter program was supposed to be voluntary.”

Representative Gary Glenn, R-Midland, is chair of the House Energy Policy committee. He said he hopes legislation and awareness will make DTE change its shut off practices.

“I’m trying my best to focus the white hot spotlight on these practices in hopes that they’ll change and we won’t hear anymore testimony like we heard today,” he said.

Glenn said he will likely amend a bill he’s been waiting to put up for a vote in the committee. HB 4220 has already had several committee hearings. It would give utility customers advance notice before switching to a smart meter, require utilities to explain the process and how to opt out, and generally make it easier for people to opt out of a smart meter. That bill hasn’t been reported yet, but Glenn said he hopes a new amendment – one that would get rid of the financial cost of opting out if the person self-reports their meter usage – will get him enough votes to pass the bill out of committee. 

DTE did not testify at the committee hearing Tuesday. It’s scheduled to testify in front of the committee on January 30th, Glenn said. DTE plans to present a report on their shutoff policies.

DTE said it doesn’t discontinue service without a reason. They say if people tamper with the equipment, refuse to let employees access the meter, or lock their meter to prevent upgrades, then they’ll shut off power. 

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R