Report on Smart Meter Problems

Updated May 1, 2017

The report “Analysis: Smart Meter and Smart Grid Problems – Legislative Proposal” is available free to the public for downloading and printing. This 173-page report, released in 2012 by health and environmental advocate Nina Beety, has extensive referenced information on the many problems and risks of the Smart Meter program known at that time, with information from state, national, and international resources.

Investigation and admissions by the industry since 2012 continue to substantiate these serious problems, providing a searing indictment on regulatory and legislative officials who have failed to halt Smart Meter deployments.

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Michigan: Consumers Energy spends millions to unseat 2 pro-consumer legislators, derail free analog meter bill, keep utility monopoly; report exposes lobbying front group

The Energy and Policy Institute report follows this overview article.

From Michigan Radio

by Tracy Hamilton
June 12, 2018

In the past four years, Consumers Energy gave $43 million to a political lobbying group, Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy, according to research by the Energy and Policy Institute.

That’s a huge sum for a utility to spend on political activity — as much as the entire electric utility industry spent on federal campaigns since 2015.

Matt Kasper of the Energy and Policy Institute found that the lobbying group failed to disclose all of the money to the IRS.

But he says it’s clear what a lot of it’s being used for: To help elect opponents of two legislators that Consumers wants out of office — Gary Glenn and Tom Barrett.

“We almost did a double take to make sure, is this really what’s happening?” he says. “But it is.”

Both Barrett and Glenn favor competition in the energy market.  

Officers with the lobbying group did not respond to requests for interviews. The Michigan Secretary of State, which oversees campaign spending, says it has not received a complaint about Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy…

From Energy and Policy Institute

The report on their website includes annual reports, tax reporting, a table of contributions, and other related docs

Consumers Energy contributed $43.5 million over four years to Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy

But that’s not what Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy reports on their IRS 990 – so where’s the money?

by Matt Kasper

Documents filed by Consumers Energy with the Michigan Public Service Commission show that the investor-owned utility has made over $43.5 million in political contributions to Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy (CEME) since its creation four years ago. Almost half of that amount was contributed last year. Crain’s Detroit was the first to break the news of the millions of dollars that the utility has dolled out to the group.

However, CEME, a 501(c)(4) organization, reports in its annual filings with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the years 2014, 2015, and 2016 that is has received only $8.5 million in revenue. Consumers Energy contributed a total of $23.5 during those years, which suggests that at least $15 million has not been reported to the IRS by the 501(c)(4) organization, and needs to be explained.

When asked to confirm the CEME funding and to explain the discrepancies between the MPSC reports and the IRS 990s, Consumers Energy spokesperson Katie Carey told the Energy and Policy Institute that their contributions to Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy came from the company in the form of non-customer, shareholder dollars and can’t speak to their tax reporting.

CEME working to influence voters

CEME was created in 2014 as part of Consumers Energy and DTE Energy efforts to prevent the legislature from passing deregulation legislation. DTE Energy contributed $332,550 that year according to its filing with the MPSC but has since not detailed specific groups in the annual reports.

CEME aired misleading ads that warned of rolling blackouts if the state did deregulate, and has continued to run ads pushing back against deregulation as well as ads supporting candidates or promoting specific energy legislation.

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy is targeting State Rep. Gary Glenn, chairman of the House Energy Policy Committee, and State Rep. Tom Barrett by promoting their competitors in the respective primary races. 

Rep. Glenn has supported restoring the old net metering rates, lifting the cap on customers that can participate in the program, and favors deregulation – all policies that would create competition with the utilities. Rep. Barrett is also on the energy committee and recently criticized the MPSC for siding with the utility industry in ruling to end the state’s net metering program.

[Reps. Glenn and Barrett are co-sponsors of House Bill 4220 which provides free analog meter choice for the public — https://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2017-2018/billintroduced/House/pdf/2017-HIB-4220.pdf ]

$43.5 million is an unmatched amount of political spending

The $43.5 million that Consumers Energy has contributed to CEME is far more than the utility has reported in other political spending. It’s over 40 times greater than the total amount of money the utility’s PAC has contributed to Michigan candidates, their total state lobbying expenditures, and is nearly 10 times larger than its federal government lobbying over the same four year period.

The company has not even spent close to that amount of money on federal campaigns. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Consumers Energy has contributed $3.97 million in federal races since 1990.

The closest dollar figure to compare is $45.3 million, which is the total amount of money the entire electric utility industry has spent on federal campaigns since 2015.

Consumers Energy nearly faced a shareholder revolt over its political spending at its May 2018 shareholder meeting, and that was before the full extent of its funding of CEME was first reported. A shareholder resolution nearly passed with 45% support that would have required Consumers Energy to make public all of its expenditures made to influence the public. The same resolution received 36% support in 2017. Each year the board of directors recommended their shareholders reject the proposal.

CEME directors have been Consumers Energy employees

Consumers Energy spokesman recently told Crain’s Detroit that they don’t know what CEME spends its money on because it is an independent organization and was then unable to provide additional information.

However, a Consumers Energy executive was a director for the organization since its creation and other registered officers are also connected to the utility.

Since 2014, CEME’s IRS 990s list David Mengebier as the vice president. Mengebier retired in October 2017 as Consumers Energy’s senior vice president of governmental, regulatory, and public affairs, and was the president of the Consumers Energy Foundation, which means for almost four years a current utility executive was a director of CEME. Mengebier is currently CEO of the philanthropic organization, the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation.

Mengebier told the Energy and Policy Institute, “I’m no longer a member of the organization so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment.”

A September 2017 document filed with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office reveals that a new officer was recently added to the organization – former Consumers Energy Vice President of Strategy and Research Ronn Rasmussen. He was also the utility’s vice president of rates and regulation for a number of years. The same document lists Mengebier as the vice president.

The IRS 990s also list Rhoda Tinkham as the organization’s secretary and treasuer. Tinkham is a Consumers Energy retiree and it is unclear what position she held, but she is the current scholarship chair of Consumers Energy’s retirees organization, The Jacksonians. She did not respond to questions about the discrepancies between the 990s and MPSC annual reports.

Howard Edelson is listed as the organization’s president. Edelson managed the utility-funded campaign to oppose the 2012 renewable energy standard ballot initiative. Consumers Energy contributed over $12 million to the campaign that year. He is currently president of the Edelson Group. He also did not respond to Energy and Policy Institute’s inquiry.

Matt Kasper is the Research Director at the Energy & Policy Institute. He focuses on defending policies that further the development of clean energy sources. He also frequently focuses on the companies and their front groups that obstruct policy solutions to global warming. Before joining the Energy & Policy Institute, Matt was a research assistant at the Center for American Progress where he worked on various state and local policy issues, including renewable energy standards. His work has appeared in The Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other outlets.

For the full report with documents and tax filings:
http://www.energyandpolicy.org/consumers-energy-contributed-43-million-dollars-to-citizens-for-energizing-michigans-economy/

Sources:

http://michiganradio.org/post/political-spending-consumers-energy-questioned

http://www.energyandpolicy.org/consumers-energy-contributed-43-million-dollars-to-citizens-for-energizing-michigans-economy/

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New surveillance warning required for international websites like this

To follow up the Electronic Freedom Foundation article, this notice from WordPress was just posted on the administration page for this website:

“Akismit and Privacy

To help your site be compliant with GDPR and other laws requiring notification of tracking, Akismit can display a notice to your user under your comment forms [that they are being tracked]. This feature is disabled by default; however if you or your audience are located in Europe, you need to turn it on.”

This is information WordPress collects. Now there will be a warning on the website.

Welcome to the Brave New World.

 

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Electronic Frontier Foundation: U.S. Homeland Security new HART database to include DNA, biometrics, “relationship patterns” on citizens and foreigners

DHS HART Timeline

Smart Meter data will be one facet of personal information compiled on every person.

DHS’s plans for future data collection and use should make us all very worried. For example, despite pushback from EFFGeorgetownACLU, and others, DHS believes it’s legally authorized to collect and retain face data from millions of U.S. citizens traveling internationally. However, as Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology notes, Congress has never authorized face scans of American citizens.

Despite this, DHS plans to roll out its face recognition program to every international flight in the country within the next four years. DHS has stated “the only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling.”

From Electronic Frontier Foundation:

HART: Homeland Security’s Massive New Database Will Include Face Recognition, DNA, and Peoples’ “Non-Obvious Relationships”

By Jennifer Lynch
June 7, 2018

So why do we know so little about it?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is quietly building what will likely become the largest database of biometric and biographic data on citizens and foreigners in the United States. The agency’s new Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) database will include multiple forms of biometrics—from face recognition to DNA, data from questionable sources, and highly personal data on innocent people. It will be shared with federal agencies outside of DHS as well as state and local law enforcement and foreign governments. And yet, we still know very little about it.

The records DHS plans to include in HART will chill and deter people from exercising their First Amendment protected rights to speak, assemble, and associate. Data like face recognition makes it possible to identify and track people in real time, including at lawful political protests and other gatherings. Other data DHS is planning to collect—including information about people’s “relationship patterns” and from officer “encounters” with the public—can be used to identify political affiliations, religious activities, and familial and friendly relationships. These data points are also frequently colored by conjecture and bias.

In late May, EFF filed comments criticizing DHS’s plans to collect, store, and share biometric and biographic records it receives from external agencies and to exempt this information from the federal Privacy Act. These newly-designated “External Biometric Records” (EBRs) will be integral to DHS’s bigger plans to build out HART. As we told the agency in our comments, DHS must do more to minimize the threats to privacy and civil liberties posed by this vast new trove of highly sensitive personal data.

DHS Growth of Biometrics
DHS slide showing growth of its legacy IDENT biometric database

DHS currently collects a lot of data. Its legacy IDENT fingerprint database contains information on 220-million unique individuals and processes 350,000 fingerprint transactions every day. This is an exponential increase from 20 years ago when IDENT only contained information on 1.8-million people. Between IDENT and other DHS-managed databases, the agency manages over 10-billion biographic records and adds 10-15 million more each week.

DHS Data Landscape
DHS slide showing breadth of DHS biometric and biographic data

DHS’s new HART database will allow the agency to vastly expand the types of records it can collect and store. HART will support at least seven types of biometric identifiers, including face and voice data, DNAscars and tattoos, and a blanket category for “other modalities.” It will also include biographic information, like name, date of birth, physical descriptors, country of origin, and government ID numbers. And it will include data we know to by highly subjective, including information collected from officer “encounters” with the public and information about people’s “relationship patterns.”

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Arizona: Is the bribery trial of an ex-utility regulator just a warm-up?

The Arizona Corporation Commission is that state’s utility regulatory commission. Supposedly.

From Arizona Central

by Laurie Roberts
May 30, 2018

Let the warm-up show begin.

If, in fact, you call the bribery and fraud trial of a former corporation commissioner, a Pinal County developer and a powerhouse lobbyist a warm up.

As for the main event – possible funny business involving a certain utility out to curry favor with utility regulators — we are still waiting.

For now, we are left to watch the curious case of former Corporation Commission Chairman Gary Pierce who prosecutors say sold out his reputation – and his vote – for $31,000 and the promise of a piece of land.

A brazen scheme to defraud

Pierce and his wife Sherry are on trial along with developer George Johnson and lobbyist Jim Norton, all charged in a brazen scheme to defraud Arizona ratepayers.

According to the federal indictment, then-Commissioner Pierce in 2011-12 led a successful drive both to raise rates for Johnson’s water and sewer company, Johnson Utilities, and to force utility customers to pick up the tab for Johnson’s income taxes. This, after opposing both requests in 2010.

In return, prosecutors say Johnson via Norton handed over $31,000 to Pierce’s wife and was planning to buy Pierce a $350,000 piece of property. Norton is a well-connected lobbyist who has represented many of the state’s power players, including Arizona Public Service.

Everybody involved has claimed their innocence.

Here’s the most interesting part of the case: the U.S. Attorney’s Office last summer acknowledged that it stumbling across the bribery case while working a larger investigation.

“The facts that resulted in the indictment of your clients were discovered during a much larger and more intensive investigation,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Fred Battista and Frank Galati wrote last summer in an email to the attorneys for the Pierces. “Mr. Pierce, Mr. Norton and many others have been interviewed by the FBI concerning that larger investigation.”

This week, Battista disclosed in court that both Pierce and Norton were offered plea deals if they cooperated in other potential criminal matters. For Pierce, it was the chance to plead guilty to a single felony and get probation. For Norton, it was the possibility of all charges being dropped if he provided “extraordinary” help. Both declined.

The question is, what is that other potential criminal matter?

What are we waiting for?

Three possibilities come to mind:

1.   The FBI investigation began shortly after a former aide to Pierce blew the whistle on his activities, claiming, among other things, that Pierce dined privately with Arizona Public Service CEO Don Brandt or his predecessor 14 times while on the commission. Of those 14 private tête-à-têtes, seven came while APS was asking for a rate hike.

“I knew this because I was asked to arrange most of the covert meetings,” the whistleblower wrote in his 2015 complaint.

2.   It’s widely believed that APS secretly poured $752,000 into an independent dark-money campaign for Pierce’s son, Justin, who was running for secretary of state in 2014.

This, as some sort of thank-you gift to Commissioner Pierce, who was term limited and couldn’t seek re-election in 2014. While on the commission, Gary Pierce often carried water for APS. The previous year, it was Pierce who led the move to suddenly shelve discussion of electric deregulation, eliminating a major threat to APS.

3.   There is also a widespread belief that APS secretly pumped $3.2 million into dark-money campaigns to get Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little elected to the Corporation Commission in 2014.

After joining the five-person commission, Forese and Little (who has since resigned to take a job in the Trump administration) became reliable supporters of APS.

They approved APS’ request to raise its rates and opposed Commissioner Bob Burns’ dogged efforts to get APS and its parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., to open their books to determine whether the regulators owe their seats to the utility.

Then again, that wouldn’t be illegal – just sneaky and ethically questionable.

It does seem likely that whatever investigation is under way involves the state’s largest utility.

This is definitely a ‘long-term investigation’

In 2016, the FBI confirmed that it was conducting “a long-term investigation related to the financing of certain statewide races in the 2014 election cycle.” As part of that investigation, FBI agents contacted Gary Pierce and subpoenaed documents from both the Corporation Commission and Pinnacle West.

As I said, we don’t yet know what the FBI is investigating.

But if charges that a state official took a bribe – with a powerful lobbyist who is a close friend of many of Arizona’s powers-that-be serving as a conduit – are the warm-up show, then …

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com.

MORE FROM ROBERTS:

https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/laurieroberts/2018/05/30/bribery-trial-ex-utility-regulator-just-warm-up-show/653830002/

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Newsweek: “Radiation from cell phones, WiFi are hurting the birds and the bees; 5G may make it worse”; “Technology is quite literally destroying nature”

From Newsweek

May 19, 2018
By Dave Covey

Technology is quite literally destroying nature, with a new report further confirming that electromagnetic radiation from power lines and cell towers can disorientate birds and insects and destroy plant health. The paper warns that as nations switch to 5G this threat could increase.

In the new analysis, EKLIPSE, an EU-funded review body dedicated to policy that may impact biodiversity and the ecosystem, looked over 97 studies on how electromagnetic radiation may affect the environment. It concluded this radiation could indeed pose a potential risk to bird and insect orientation and plant health, The Telegraph reported.

This is not a new finding, as studies dating back for years have come to the same conclusion. In fact, one study from 2010 even suggested that this electromagnetic radiation may be playing a role in the decline of certain animal and insect populations. The radio waves can disrupt the magnetic “compass” that many migrating birds and insects use. The creatures may become disorientated, AFP reported.

The electromagnetic radiation also interrupted the orientation of insects, spiders and mammals, and may even disrupt plant metabolism, The Telegraph reported.

As a result of this most recent finding, the UK charity Buglife urged that plans to install 5G transmitters may have “serious impacts” on the environment, The Telegraph reported. For this reason, it suggests these transmitters not be placed on LED street lamps, which would attract insects and increase their exposure.

5G is a fifth generation wireless technology that transmits data at high speeds. It is used by phone towers to make phone calls, text messages and to browse the internet.

In addition, the charity called for further studying of this threat.

“We apply limits to all types of pollution to protect the habitability of our environment, but as yet, even in Europe, the safe limits of electromagnetic radiation have not been determined, let alone applied,” said Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife, The Telegraph reported.

In the United States, AT&T plans to be the first to have 5G available, and will launch the network in 12 cities by the end of the year, PC Mag reported.

Photo: 5G may interfere with bird navigation. Migratory birds fly in France
Francois Nasimbeni/AFB/Getting

http://www.newsweek.com/migratory-birds-bee-navigation-5g-technology-electromagnetic-radiation-934830

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Ultrasonic commands can trigger Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant — how safe is “smart”? (VIDEO)

From ZeroHedge

May 16, 2018

Over the last two years, academic researchers have identified various methods that they can transmit hidden commands that are undetectable by the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant.

According to a new report from The New York Times, scientific researchers have been able “to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites.” This could, perhaps, allow cybercriminals to unlock smart-home doors, control a Tesla car via the App, access users’ online bank accounts, load malicious browser-based cryptocurrency mining websites, and or access all sort of personal information.

In 2017, Statista projected around 223 million people in the U.S. would be using a smartphone device, which accounts for roughly 84 percent of all mobile users. Of these 223 million smartphones users, around 108 million Americans are using the Android Operating System, and some 90 million are using Apple’s iOS (operating system). A new Gallup poll showed that 22 percent of Americans are actively using Amazon Echo or Google Assistant in their homes.

With much of the country using artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, a new research document published from the University of California, Berkeley indicates inaudible commands could be embedded “directly into recordings of music or spoken text,” said The New York Times.

For instance, a millennial could be listening to their favorite song: ‘The Middle’ by Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey. Embedded into the audio file could have several inaudible commands triggering Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa to complete a task that the user did not instruct — such as, buying merchandise from the music performer on Amazon.

“We wanted to see if we could make it even more stealthy,” said Nicholas Carlini, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in computer security at U.C. Berkeley and one of the paper’s authors.

At the moment, Carlini said this is only an academic experiment, as it is only a matter of time before cybercriminals figure out this technology.

“My assumption is that the malicious people already employ people to do what I do,” he added.

The New York Times said Amazon “does not disclose specific security measure” to thwart a device from an ultrasonic attack, but the company has taken precautionary measures to protect users from unauthorized human use. Google told The New York Times that security development is ongoing and has developed features to mitigate undetectable audio commands.

Both companies’ [Amazon and Google] assistants employ voice recognition technology to prevent devices from acting on certain commands unless they recognize the user’s voice.

Apple said its smart speaker, HomePod, is designed to prevent commands from doing things like unlocking doors, and it noted that iPhones and iPads must be unlocked before Siri will act on commands that access sensitive data or open apps and websites, among other measures.

Yet many people leave their smartphones unlocked, and, at least for now, voice recognition systems are notoriously easy to fool.

There is already a history of smart devices being exploited for commercial gains through spoken commands,” said The New York Times.

Last year, there were several examples of companies and even cartoons taking advantage of weaknesses in voice recognition systems, including Burger King’s Google Home commercial to South Park‘s episode with Alexa.

While there are currently no American laws against broadcasting subliminal or ultrasonic messages to humans, let alone artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warns against the practice, calling it a “counter to the public interest,” and the Television Code of the National Association of Broadcasters bans “transmitting messages below the threshold of normal awareness.” However, The New York Times points out that “neither says anything about subliminal stimuli for smart devices.”

Recently, the ultrasonic attack technology showed up in the hands of the Chinese. Researchers at Princeton University and China’s Zhejiang University conducted several experiments showing that inaudible commands can, in fact, trigger voice-recognition systems in an iPhone.

“The technique, which the Chinese researchers called DolphinAttack, can instruct smart devices to visit malicious websites, initiate phone calls, take a picture or send text messages. While DolphinAttack has its limitations — the transmitter must be close to the receiving device — experts warned that more powerful ultrasonic systems were possible,” said The New York Times.

DolphinAttack could inject covert voice commands at 7 state-of-the-art speech recognition systems (e.g., Siri, Alexa) to activate always-on system and achieve various attacks, which include activating Siri to initiate a FaceTime call on iPhone, activating Google Now to switch the phone to the airplane mode, and even manipulating the navigation system in an Audi automobile. (Source: guoming zhang)

DolphinAttack Demonstration Video 

While the number of smart devices in consumers’ pockets and at their homes is on the rise, it is only a matter of time before the technology falls into the wrong hands, and unleashed against them. Imagine, cybercriminals accessing your Audi or Tesla via ultrasonic attacks against voice recognition technology on a smart device. Maybe these so-called smart devices are not smart after all, as the dangers of these devices are starting to be realized. Millennials will soon be panicking.

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Tennessee: Utility company says it doesn’t track how many Smart Meters are billing incorrectly

Note: Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW)

From WMC Action News 5, Memphis

April 27, 2018

Video: http://www.wmcactionnews5.com/clip/14307772/mlgw-doesnt-track-smart-meter-errors

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) –

MLGW said it doesn’t know how many smart meters are providing faulty information about your utility usage.

Earlier this month, WMC uncovered two instances of faulty gas meters under-reporting usage to MLGW.

Customers were hit with bills of a $1,000 or more to cover the difference.

WMC submitted an open records request asking MLGW how many other times this has happened in the last year.

On Friday, we were told that information is not available because it’s not tracked.

Copyright 2018 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.

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http://www.wmcactionnews5.com/story/38063699/mlgw-doesnt-track-smart-meter-errors

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