Ohio disabled woman’s power shut off for not accepting new meter, later restored
This story was updated at 7:30pm ET Feb 9. See the end of the story.
Brenda Hawk is a 57-year-old woman who is on a breathing machine, has a pacemaker and resides in Allen County, Ohio, near Lima, with a dog and farm animals. No other people reside with her.
She has an analog meter reader on her home because she claims that the waves emitted from the radio meters (automatic meter readers, or radio frequency — RF — meters) could harm her pacemaker. Of course, there are other health concerns from RF meters, as well, as military studies and other research institutes have found. AEP Ohio wants to replace her meter with an RF meter called an Automatic Meter Reader (AMR). In fact, there are many stories about RF meters damaging pacemakers, including a Jul. 17, 2012 story about a man with a pacemaker who was hospitalized. Both AMRs and smart readers are RF meters.
Hawk has requested information from AEP to demonstrate that the RF meters are safe for her, and to date, the only information she has received is threatening information stating that her power would be shut off if she did not accept the new meter.
According to AEP Ohio’s web site, the benefits of a smart meter, which contains the RF waves, are as follows:
A Smart Meter is a digital electric meter equipped with two-way communications technology. These advanced meters are the first step of the gridSMARTSM project and will provide near real-time readings and secure transfer of customer’s usage information to AEP Ohio for billing and operational purposes. They’ll also enable customers to have greater energy control to help save money and energy.Northeast Central Ohio customers are already beginning to experience the start of the following benefits:
- Improved Reliability. AEP Ohio is better equipped to detect power outage locations, so repairs can begin quickly. Customers, however, should continue to call AEP Ohio to report power outages.
- Remote Meter Reading. Meter readers no longer need to enter a customer’s property every month, though AEP Ohio will still need occasional access for testing and maintenance.
In October, AEP informed Hawk that she would need to accept a new meter. Hawk shared with AEP that they did not have an easement to come on her property, and she was told at that time that she could continue to read her own analog meter. Then mid-January, the situation changed when AEP told Hawk that she must accept the RF meter.
She was notified that AEP would come to shut off her electric on Feb. 8, 2013, unless she accepted the new RF meter. Having not yet been provided with the information necessary for her to feel safe accepting the meter, she told AEP of her personal health situation and that she could not accept the new meter until further documentation was received. Despite this, AEP disconnected her power on Feb. 8, 2013. Hawk says that she is not behind on her electric bill at all, either, and an AEP spokesperson confirmed that Hawk’s electricity was not disconnected because of a past due bill. The Brenner Brief has confirmed with the same representative at AEP that Hawk’s electricity has indeed been disconnected.
An individual at the Allen County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that a deputy escorted AEP on to Hawk’s property; however, the sheriff’s department claims it was because Hawk “would not allow AEP to read the meter.” Hawk disputes this claim, and says that she always allows them on the property to read her meter, and that she also reads her own meter because she lives in a very rural area. A public records request has been submitted to the sheriff’s department to obtain a copy of the police report and any notes, files, emails or other records regarding this situation with Hawk and AEP.
Some states allow smart or RF meter opt-out. Ohio is not one of those states.
Although, Ohio Revised Code would seem to clarify this matter. The addition of the bold text is not in the ORC — we have added the bold font for emphasis only.
ORC 4933.121 Company may shut off electricity – exception.
(A) Except as provided in division (E) of section 5117.11 of the Revised Code, an electric light company shall not, for any reason, unless requested by the consumer for safety reasons, or unless tampering with utility company equipment or theft of electricity or utility company equipment has occurred, cease to provide electricity to any residential consumer for the period beginning on the fifteenth day of November and ending on the fifteenth day of the following April, unless both of the following apply:
(1) The account of the consumer is in arrears thirty days or more.
(2) If the occupant of residential premises is a tenant whose landlord is responsible for payment for the service provided by the company, the company has, five days previously, notified the occupant of its intent to discontinue service to the occupant.
(B) The company shall not refuse to furnish electricity on account of arrearages due it for electricity furnished to persons formerly receiving services at the premises as customers of the company, provided the former customers are not continuing to reside at the premises.
(C) No company shall cease to provide electricity to any residential premises between the fifteenth day of November and the fifteenth day of April because of a failure to pay the amount due for the electricity unless the company, at the time it sends or delivers to the premises notices of termination, informs the occupant of the premises where to obtain state and federal aid for payment of utility bills and for home weatherization and information on local government aid for payment of utility bills and for home weatherization.
(D) On or before the first day of November, a county human services department may request a company to give prior notification of any residential service terminations to occur during the period beginning on the fifteenth day of November immediately following the department’s request and ending on the fifteenth day of the following April. If a department makes such a written request, at least twenty-four hours before the company terminates services to a residential customer in the county during that period for failure to pay the amount due for service, the company shall provide written notice to the department of the residential customer whose service the company so intends to terminate. No company that has received such a request shall terminate such service during that period unless it has provided the notice required under this division.
(E) No company shall cease to provide electricity to the residential premises of any residential consumer who is deployed on active duty for nonpayment for electricity provided to the residential premises. Upon return of a residential consumer from active duty, the company shall offer the residential consumer a period equal to at least the period of deployment on active duty to pay any arrearages incurred during the period of deployment. The company shall inform the residential consumer that, if the period the company offers presents a hardship to the consumer, the consumer may request a longer period to pay the arrearages and, in the case of a company that is a public utility as defined in section 4905.02 of the Revised Code, may request the assistance of the public utilities commission to obtain a longer period. No late payment fees or interest shall be charged to the residential consumer during the period of deployment or the repayment period. If a company that is a public utility determines that amounts owed by a residential consumer who is deployed on active duty are uncollectible, the company may file an application with the public utilities commission for approval of authority to recover the amounts. The recovery shall be through a rider on the base rates of customers of the company or through other means as may be approved by the commission, provided that any amount approved to be recovered through a rider or other means shall not be considered by the commission in any subsequent rate determination. As used in this division, “active duty” means active duty pursuant to an executive order of the president of the United States, an act of the congress of the United States, or section 5919.29 or 5923.21 of the Revised Code.
An AEP representative confirmed by phone that Hawk has a barrier to her equipment, and that this is why electric was shut off. However, Hawk has stated that she has informed AEP that she will remove the barrier so that they may read her analog meter, and that she offered this to the sheriff and AEP on Feb. 8. The barrier, according to Hawk, is simply to prevent AEP from coming on to her property to replace the meter without her permission due to the current situation.
Early next week, we hope to be able to provide an update with additional documentation from the sheriff and AEP, as well as details regarding any resolution. For now, Hawk’s electricity remains off, and she has not slept since the evening of Feb. 7 due to her fear of falling asleep without a working breathing machine. In the meantime, her animals cannot drink water because her well does not work, her toilet will not flush, and she and her dog curl up next to the kerosene lamp in the evenings to keep warm.
Stay tuned for more updates, and hopefully a resolution to return Hawk’s electricity to working order.
UPDATE: Brenda Hawk confirmed by phone for us that her power has been restored. AEP came to her home, turned it on and left, so she is not aware of any final resolution at this time. She said, “Now I can get some sleep because my breathing machine will work. … I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me.” We will keep you updated.
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