Last week a Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that key issues remain regarding Consumers Energy Company being able to charge customers a fee for refusing to allow installation of smart meters on their homes. The Court ordered that the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) “conduct a contested case hearing on this significant issue.”
The Court appeared sympathetic to arguments from customers that the PSC’s approval of tariffs requiring customers who refuse smart meters to pay a one-time charge of either $69.39 or $123.91 and a monthly charge of $9.72 “was unjust, unreasonable, and unsupported by evidence in the record.”
As stated in the ruling:
“…because of the numerous issues raised on appeal … concerning tariffs for customers who elect to opt-out of the AMI program, we remand those issues to the PSC and direct the PSC to conduct a contested case hearing on the opt-out tariff. … “We direct the PSC to issue a detailed opinion with sufficient facts and conclusions of law that allows this Court to review the entire scope of the unusual opt-out tariff.”
Note the Court itself characterized the smart meter refusal fee as “unusual;” that “numerous issues” were raised on appeal; and that the opt-out tariff represents a “significant issue.”
In addition, a footnote in the ruling states:
“On remand, the PSC should clarify the purpose and nature of the opt-out tariff by addressing whether the tariff represents a reimbursement for costs of service, or whether the tariff constitutes something more akin to a tax, sanction, or penalty imposed upon customers who choose to opt out of the AMI program.”
Thus, the Court appeared skeptical that the opt-out tariff is solely a cost-based fee rather than a sanction against concerned consumers.
Also, however, the Court felt it currently did not have sufficient information to make a final judgment ‘for or against’ the opt-out tariffs and simply stated:
“Unfortunately, it appears that these issues were given only cursory analysis in the PSC lower court record. We conclude that the record on this issue is inadequate to support an informed decision by the Court at this time.”
Among the “numerous issues” to be resolved is whether customers who refuse smart meters effectively pay twice, i.e., whether they pay for a smart meter plus having to pay an additional fee for not having a smart meter.
Opinion as Downloaded from Court Website: Michigan Appeals Court Opinion
“Regulators ordered to reopen dispute over smart meters,” at http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/05/03/regulators-reopen-smart-meter-debate/26834773/?
“State utility regulators ordered to re-open dispute over smart-meter fees,” at http://www.wwmt.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/State-utility-regulators-ordered-to-re-open-dispute-over-smart-meter-fees-126576.shtml