Skip to comments.In this Wisconsin town, you get the smart meter or they shut you down
Posted on 07/11/2013 6:06:50 AM PDT by afraidfortherepublic
BARABOO Residents in this small southern Wisconsin city have two choices when it comes to the brave new world of the Smart Grid: Go along with new smart meters for public utilities or get along without water, gas or electricity.
Most residents dont make a fuss and let the utilities install the new smart meters, which are supposed to provide utility customers and taxpayers with savings from real-time data usage and less manpower needed to read traditional analog meters.
Some residents, however, including 81-year-old Audrey Parker, say the smart meters are an invasion of privacy, and they believe the technologys use of radio frequency poses health concerns.
Parker and the Sheriffs, a Baraboo family, fought city hall over installation of the new meters and have seemingly lost.
ALL IN: Baraboo is among several Wisconsin communities that requires utility customers to install smart meter technology. If customers refuse, they lose. The two households had their water shut off on Tuesday.
My husband is 74 years old and hes been hauling five gallon buckets of water into the house for us to flush the toilet, said Darcy Sheriff, 65. Its not even sanitary. Its just a disgusting situation.
The Sheriffs recently took in a family with a 2-year-old girl to stay with them until August, adding to the sticky situation.
Were not political crusader-type people. We just know its time to take a stand. This has gone too far. We dont want this thing in our home, Sheriff told Wisconsin Reporter on Wednesday. Its none of the citys business when Im using water or what Im using. Just that we dont know for sure (about health issues) is enough to bother us.
Mayor Mike Palm did not return requests for comment, but city officials told Wisconsin Reporter on Wednesday that the city tried to convince the holdouts to let them in to install the new meter.
With 4,612 customers, theres fewer than a handful left to do, said Tom Pinion, director of Public Works for the city. Every residence in Baraboo that has electric meters and gas meters has this exact same device in their home. Every home has two transceiver units. This is a third.
The smart meter uses radio-frequency waves to send usage data between a utility customers home and their utility company. The high-tech gauges are a key link in the transition to the Smart Grid, the shared initiative of the federal government and the energy industry to modernize the nations electricity transmission and distribution system. Theres a lot of taxpayer money involved in a myriad programs to bring the Smart Grid and smart meters online.
Small pockets of citizens in municipalities throughout the country have balked at the new technology. Some cite health concerns, others see the meters as an invasion of privacy and still others link the technology to United Nations Agenda 21, a conspiracy theory based on an actual UN policy initiative that purports the global elite want to control, among other things, how much energy people use.
Pinion said he hasnt seen any evidence that backs up the health and privacy concerns cited by Parker. Regardless, he said, she has to comply with city policies to receive city resources.
Its not an option, he said. The service shes had the last umpteen years has been water. She can certainly continue to have water, but we have an obligation to change up the meter.
The Public Service Commission has allowed municipalities and private utilities to decide whether they want to offer an opt-out provision. Some communities, like the city of Madison, allow an opt-out, although it doesnt come without a cost.
Madison Water Utility customers who decline the installation of a smart meter have to pay a monthly charge of $7.78 for a quarterly manual meter reading, according to the utility.
Baraboo, like other Wisconsin communities, doesnt offer an opt-out option.
SHUTDOWN: Jim Sheriff pours water into the toilet of his Baraboo home Wednesday. The city water utility temporarily shut off water to the property because Sheriff and his wife, Darcy, have refused the installation of a smart water meter. PSC spokesman Nathan Conrad said less than 1 percent of complaints filed with the commission since 2010 have dealt with smart meters.
Pinion said 17 other Wisconsin communities use the same transceiver model and dont allow an opt-out option.
Were not breaking any new ground here, he said.
State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, however, wants to give customers statewide the option to opt-out of smart meter installation.
Smart meters are seeking efficiencies, and thats a noble thing, but whats been happening with smart meters is utility providers by and large dont have competition, he said. So when these smart meters are installed, customers are not being given options. This would allow an opt-out for customers who, for whatever reason, dont want smart meters.
Thiesfeldt said hes fielded just a handful of formal complaints from constituents, but has heard concern from other people at public events.
Privacy concerns are the thrust of the bill that I have put forward, the lawmaker said. I think this is a Fourth Amendment issue. People should be able to control their personal data.
Thiesfeldt pointed to government snooping revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden as a reason why personal data collection should be protected.
The public utility is able to measure an unbelievable amount of data in your household, getting down to whether or not youre using a microwave or a stove, he said. I want the public to know what these devices are capable of doing. You ought to be able to control your personal data of whats going on inside your home.
The PSC intervened Wednesday, and by late in the day the Sheriffs water was turned back on, pending an investigation. Darcy Sheriff suffers from a medical condition that exempts the home from the shut-off. Darcy Sheriff told Wisconsin Reporter that the city is demanding a medical form proving her infirmity within 21 days or the utility will shut off the water again.
Audrey Parker was not so lucky. As of late Wednesday, the 81-year-old great-grandmother was still without city water.
They have been pricing my electricity by time of day for 27 years. At one time I had the option to opt in, or out, of this program. I just let stand what the homeowner before me did.
I do so little wash (just 2 of us) and do it at all kinds of crazy times of day, or night, that it doesn’t really matter. I have an extra large machine, so it’s generally 2 loads per week. 3 at the most.
But, I was in danger of a lawsuit from a meter reader slipping down a rocky hillside to read my meter, so I’m happy to have them read it from the street.
If I had an indoor garden (caugh caugh!) I could understand being opposed to a meter that can record a large and consistent electrical load change during the same 12 hour period each day. Otherwise, I don’t really understand the opposition to these meters, other than not wanting big brother collecting any more information than he already is.
But then, the utilities already know how much electricity per quarter you use versus your neighbors, so the electrical load of your indoor garden would still stand out next to your neighbor’s, even if they leaves all of their lights and televisions on 24/7.
That said, if the meters are to help the utility company cut costs, I think they should be offering a monthly opt-in credit, rather than an opt-out charge.