By Ryan Ekvall and Alyssa Hertig | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — David Kreinz must feel a little bit like Mick Jagger circa 1965. He can’t get no satisfaction, though he says he’s tried and he’s tried.
Kreinz is among at least 68 Wisconsinites who, since the beginning of 2010, have filed complaints with the Public Service Commission about smart meters, Wisconsin Reporter learned through an open records request.
“Nothing happened after I spoke with these agencies since Wisconsin is not an opt-out state,” Kreinz said. “We got these meters jammed down our throats, whether we wanted them or not. Take it, like it and that’s it. I just want it out of my house.”
Municipalities may set their own opt-out policies for smart meters. The PSC estimated in 2012 that about half of the nearly 600 regulated water utilities had advanced meters in service.
That hasn’t stopped a growing number of concerned citizens from pushing back on the utilities.
Kreinz, like many of the other complainants, is concerned about potential health risks from the wireless radio frequency transmissions used in the smart meters.
In July, the City of Baraboo disconnected water service from two households – Darcy and Jim Sheriff and Audrey Parker – after the residents refused to allow the water utility to install smart meters on their properties. The PSC intervened and both have since had their water turned on after they provided medical notes excusing them from the mandate.
“I agreed to let them install the smart meter without the transmitter,” Parker told Wisconsin Reporter on Wednesday. “They have to come back and read it manually. They won’t tell me what the charge will be for that.”
The Sheriffs also allowed the city to install a meter without a transmitter.
Utility companies such as Alliant Energy and WE Energies say the meters are safe and expose people to less radio frequency emissions than cell phones.
Laura Smrecek of Milwaukee, who filed a complaint with the PSC, complained about the lack of alternatives.
“With this monopoly, it’s really hard to get anywhere” she said.
“I’m feeling very trapped,” Smrecek said. “There’s a lack of control by the individual who’s paying for the service. There’s way too much government control and way too little individual control.”
The Republican Party of Wisconsin adopted the language “the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin must make the usage of smart meters, electrical, gas, and water optional, and provide for an opt out of the smart meter program at no additional cost” as part of its platform at the 2013 state convention.
Theisfeldt says his concern with requiring Wisconsinites to have smart meters installed is more of an issue of privacy.
“Thankfully, it is currently illegal for Wisconsin utilities to sell or share customer data without consent. However, online data and wireless transmissions by smart meters are intrinsically tempting to hackers, unauthorized third parties and potential warrants by overzealous law enforcement,” he wrote in a July op-ed.
In an age where hackers can tap into emails, ATMs, baby monitors, and even cars, Theisfeldt’s concerns may have merit.
The BBC reported in May that the British Department of Energy and Climate Change delayed the roll-out of smart meters “due to safety of the data collected by the meters and transferred back to the utility companies.”
Charyl Zehfus, of Wisconsin Smart Meter Action Group, said the movement to allow opt-outs of smart meters in Wisconsin is growing.
“Even if it’s just someone’s opinion (on safety risks), why shouldn’t we be able to control our own houses and get our own services?” she said. “If this bill doesn’t get a hearing in a good committee, it will get killed. We aren’t stopping, we are growing. This is survival for certain individuals.”
Contact Ryan Ekvall at [email protected]