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Updated: Wednesday, 25 Apr 2012, 6:16 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 25 Apr 2012, 4:45 PM EDT
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Consumers Energy says it will allow customers to opt-out of having new SmartMeters installed in their homes -- but it's going to cost them extra.
Some homes and businesses on Warren Street SE in Grand Rapids' East Hills neighborhood have been outfitted with SmartMeters for over a year.
It has been a pilot program leading into a big rollout this summer, when Consumers Energy will begin installing nearly a half-million SmartMeters in Kent and Muskegon counties. By 2019, all Consumers customers will have SmartMeters.
The new SmartMeters don't look much different from the old ones, but they can do much more -- enough to eliminate human meter readers. The meters automatically report usage six times a day to Consumers Energy and can allow the company to control power to customers.
The new SmartMeters are more expensive than traditional meters -- Consumers will spend about $300 each, and that cost will get passed on to customers.
But the SmartMeters might also save customers money.
"I think it definitely going to come in handy at times when perhaps energy usage is going to be more expensive or less expensive at certain times of the day, and we'll be able to understand when we're spending more money," Warren Street resident Elizabeth Hoffman Ransford.
Customers will have a remote reader that gives them current information about how much energy they're using.
"It's supposed to show you right now what you're spending, then you can turn off the light and see how it changes, and so you'd be able to say, 'Wow I just saved five cents today,'" explained Elizabeth's husband Charlie Ransford.
At the other end of Warren Street, Jim Winter Troutwine owns his own home and five rental properties. He figures he's saved some money with the new SmartMeters.
"That has worked really well and helped incentivize us to do laundry after hours, and dishwasher after hours, and other high-electric consumption devices after hours when the cost is lower than during the daytime," said Troutwine.
No one who spoke to 24 Hour News 8 has heard of anyone who wants to opt out of the SmartMeter program. Consumers said it's offering that choice -- but it will cost more.
According to information Consumers gave state regulators last month, it hasn't yet decided much it will make customers pay to opt out.
It's also not known if the Michigan Public Service Commission will allow an extra opt-out charge. The commission is is investigating the SmartMeter program because of criticism from some organizations who say customers won't benefit because it will cost them more than they'll save.
"Energy costs are on the rise and this is, I think, a program to make customers feel like they have come control over that," said Charlie.
The Public Service Commission told the utility company answer questions about SmartMeter costs, savings and safety. By the end of June, Consumers will fashion a report and possibly some recommendations that could have an impact on the utility's plans.