The short intervals between charging your electric car alert the insurance company that you might be a speeder. That 2 a.m. batch of microwave popcorn outs you to pharmaceutical companies looking to peddle their insomnia medications, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Some people fear utilities or anyone with access to their data are using new smart electricity meters to peer into your home and create a usage profile that can be sold.
DTE Energy and other utilities say privacy concerns are overblown and that they like the cost savings that come with automated billing because smart meters can transmit usage remotely over radio waves.
They say customers who don't want their smart meters turned on — or opt out under a Michigan state rule — should cover the cost of human meter reading, an initial $87 fee, plus $15 a month.
DTE submitted the proposal last week to the Michigan Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities and sets rates and fees. DTE was the first major utility in the state to submit its plan for handling these ratepayers.
DTE has installed 825,000 smart meters on customers' homes so far. The plan is to have 1.2 million in place by the end of 2013. The company launched a smart meter pilot program in 2008, but ramped up installation in 2009 after getting a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Among those who do not like smart meters is David Lonier, 73, of Auburn Hills, who has installed a lock to keep his old meter attached to his house, put up a sign reminding DTE workers not to replace the meter and also threatened to sue the utility over the matter.
"They invade our privacy. They can monitor use, what's being used in your home, a whole bunch of Fourth Amendment privacy violations. The data can be sold for marketing," said the retired remodeler, who also is worried about radiation some say smart meters give off. "They'll know more about your private life than you wish to disclose. You're not asked if you want to disclose it. They simply take it from you. You have no option."
State Attorney General Bill Schuette joined the conversation in the spring, when he told the commission in a letter that customers should be able to opt out at a reasonable price.
Kevin Doran, a research professor of energy policy at the University of Colorado-Boulder, dismissed the safety concerns, but understands why certain people see the Big Brother implications of utilities' collecting such detailed user information.
"If I give all the smart grid data to a utility, from a consumers' perspective, you'd be potentially worried that if the utility's profits are down (they'll say,) 'Let's (collect) the data and sell it to a third-party data provider,' " he said. "You can really start putting together a digital doppelgänger of somebody."
According to a December 2010 AT&T-sponsored study by Traverse City's Ponemon Institute, which conducts privacy and security research, 39 percent of respondents believe smart meters working in conjunction with a smart grid will decrease their privacy, compared with 24 percent who are unsure and 37 percent who think it will have no impact or a positive impact.
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