Smart meter opt-out program a compromise for both sides

2012-10-30T06:30:00Z 2012-10-30T15:49:38Z Smart meter opt-out program a compromise for both sidesJESSICA VANEGEREN | The Capital Times | jvanegeren@madison.com madison.com

After a few months of negotiation between the Madison Water Utility and a group of Madison residents, a rate structure is in place to allow utility customers to opt out from having a smart meter.

The smart meter -- or advanced metering infrastructure as they are known within the industry -- uses radio frequency waves to transmit information, similar to a cellphone or a Wi-Fi computer network.

In this case, the meters transmit water usage information from the homes of utility customers to the Madison Water Utility’s main office on East Olin Avenue. The utility is in the process of upgrading meters across the city, to allow for monthly billing and closer tracking of water usage.

The citizens’ grass-roots effort to provide a means for customers to refuse the new, high-tech meters was begun for a number of reasons, including privacy and health concerns.

Dolores Kester, the lead petitioner, called the utility’s opt-out policy, which was approved by the Public Service Commission last week, a “reasonable starting point.”

The utility dropped a proposed $79.38 opt-out fee. For those who want the smart meter mounted outside their home (within 300 feet), there is a one-time $50.69 fee. For those who prefer to keep their analog meter, there is a monthly $7.78 fee to have a utility employee visit their home four times a year to read the meter.

In comparison, California’s Pacific Gas & Electric charges a $75 opt-out fee and a monthly $10 fee to manually read meters; Portland Electric charges a $224 opt-out fee and a monthly $54 manual read fee; and Nevada Energy charges its customers an opt-out fee ranging from $98.75 to $107.66 and a monthly reading fee ranging from $7.61 to $11.0.

“What they put forward is the result of a lot of back and forth,” says Kester, a retired attorney. “When we first brought up the idea, they didn’t like it. But they kept talking to us through the summer and into the fall. What we have now is a reasonable place to start.”

Robin Piper, the utility’s smart meter program manager, echoed her sentiments.

“Overall, I’m pleased with what we’ve ended up with,” Piper says. “We were able to accomplish in about four months what other communities have taken years to do.”

Indeed, rifts between utilities and their customers have become heated across the country as users expressed worries about privacy and health effects from the cutting-edge meters. In some cities in California, utilities had to resort to using law enforcement to obtain access to people’s homes.

But in Madison, a city known for its vocal citizenry, especially on public policies, the back and forth was much more civil.

To date, 664 customers have requested to opt out from having a smart meter installed, Piper says. Kester is among them.

She says there are too many unresolved issues surrounding the meters.

On the privacy question, Piper says the meters don’t record instantaneous water usage but collect data on a daily basis.

As for the health effects, critics point to a recent American Academy of Environmental Medicine position paper saying the high-frequency waves emitted by smart meters and other similar devices are not safe for pregnant women, those with cardiac arrhythmia, neurological disorders or radio frequency sickness.

Catherine Kleiber, of Waterloo, has been speaking out for years about the health risks associated with smart meters. She says she and her two boys suffer from radio frequency sickness. She now lives off the electric grid completely and home schools her sons.

She says a recent trip to Madison made them all ill. So while an opt-out program is a step forward, she says, it does nothing to protect sensitive individuals from the larger network that is being created to accommodate the water utility's data-gathering system.

Given the existing cellphone and Wi-Fi networks, the utility is only adding to the problem, she says.

“For people that are experiencing health problems, it (the opt-out program) is probably insufficient,” Kleiber says.

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(6) Comments

  1. Magdeshu
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    Magdeshu - November 01, 2012 8:51 pm
    No one seems to be talking about the fact that this is a wireless system of water meters that can be hacked into - like our computers. The entire water system can be sabotaged.

    And no one is discussing the privacy concerns: information on water usage, time of usage, etc. that can be used in marketing firms, by criminals to learn when people are usually home, and others. For those proverbial 'inquiring minds' we hear about, who knows what else about us can be known.
  2. SoylentGreen
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    SoylentGreen - October 30, 2012 12:50 pm
    How many of these moonbats are complaing to the city on their cell phones and then blogging about it in front of their LCD monitors that connect via wifi?

    The City should have given them 2 options - smart meter or no city water. They can be radio frequency free and get bottled water from Woodmans if they want.
  3. Shake
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    Shake - October 30, 2012 11:40 am
    Foolish people! You are paying us to implement UN Agenda 21.
  4. Native
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    Native - October 30, 2012 10:31 am
    Do you suppose that Waterloo has no radio nor television reception? Or does the Kleiber family all wear tinfoil hats to keep out that radio frequency radiation?
  5. ttt3
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    ttt3 - October 30, 2012 9:39 am
    While there have already been plenty of articles on this issue, I'm disappointed in the one-sidedness of this one. Lots of commentary from anti-smart meter folks but no mention of the other side of the issue i.e. that smart meters are no more dangerous than wifi routers, cell/cordless phones, etc, and only make sense in a connected society. Do we really want to keep paying people to walk around houses and read digits off an analog meter forever?

    Personally I think Ms. Kleiber is full of it - of course they got "sick" when they went to town, they likely had already convinced themselves that that was going to happen before they went. It's all in their head. Does she expect her sons to live "off the grid" their entire lives?
  6. Mr LaMarr
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    Mr LaMarr - October 30, 2012 8:41 am
    Radio frequency sickness? Just another loony looking for disability payments. Send her an economy sized roll of tin foil to wrap around her head.
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