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WI smart meter complaints: ‘There’s way too much government control’

By   /   August 14, 2013  /   9 Comments

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.”

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ARE THEY READING THIS? Dozens of Wisconsin residents have filed complaints about ‘smart meters’ with the Public Service Commission since 2010.

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 householdsDarcy 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.”

State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt has introduced a smart-meter opt-out bill that, according to the Capital Times, appears to be gaining little traction among Republicans and no support from Democrats.

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]

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Ryan formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Anne D.

    Why is this monopoly allowed to exist as a monopoly? Remember when Reagan dismantled the telephone company because it was a monopoly. Of course there’s way too much government control. They even tell us what kind of (mercury-filled) light bulbs to use.

  • GS

    These people need to have their heads examined. The transmitters for water meters run on a “C” sized lithium battery. They transmit at so little power that the companies selling these things to the utilities warranty the batteries to last for up to 20 years.

    They transmit 3 things:
    1. The time of the reading.
    2. The reading on the Meter.
    3. The serial number of the meter.

    Roughly 16 bytes worth of data is transmitted per reading.
    To put that into perspective a single DVD can hold 4,700,000,000 bytes.

    The data packets would be too small to even contain a GPS location.

    That’s worse than a stranger lurking around your house once a month?

    I think not.

  • Hot Shot Pete

    Since smart meters save utilities money in not having to have a person going around and read them, I think rate payers should get a $ 3.00/month rebate for allowing the power companies to install them. The individuals that refuse to allow the use will end up paying more each month.

  • Kirsten

    For those scoffing at those who don’t want the meters, another important thing to know is that the transmissions from these meters are not encrypted. With very simple technology, someone can stand outside your home, capture the transmissions, and begin to figure out when you are and are not home…in order to rob you. Even the industry knows this is a problem. I have in my possession a 2011 presentation delivered by a lawyer that works for our own Wisconsin PSC that mentions this very issue, along with the ability of the data to be sold to third parties. Ask yourself why a lawyer from the PSC would mention sale of the data from these meters as an issue if the data is worthless. In fact, in some states, the data already can be, and is being, sold. While it is currently illegal to sell such data in Wisconsin, there are lots of other ways such data can be used and abused that the consumer won’t like very much.

    (Incidentally, while utilities like to talk about how much money the smart meters will save the utility and you, rates tend to increase significantly after they go in. Baraboo customers, for example, experienced an approximately 37 percent increase after water meters were rolled out. That doesn’t even begin to cover the block rates that are planned for customers in places like Madison. You’ll essentially have a water quota. If you exceed it, it’s not going to be cheap.)

    While the utilities and the meter industries are telling you that the meters are not smart enough to know when you’re using what, that’s essentially a clever semantics-based lie. Algorithms can be and are worked out in relationship to usage. So, it may not be the meter PER SE that is determining what you’re using or how you’re using it — it may be a computer receiving the data on the utility end — the meter is conveying usage spikes and drops that, when translated mathematically tell the utility what you’re up to…showering, flushing your toilet, using your oven, running your air conditioner, etc.

    Moreover, many electrical meters, though perhaps not all yet, are already designed to facilitate the “smart grid” by communicating with appliances in your home or business. More and more appliances — refrigerators, air conditioners, etc — are likewise being equipped by manufacturers to engage in that “conversation.” This fact is easily, easily verified.

    Again, manufacturers and the utilities prefer not to tell you these things, because they know people will be rightly concerned. Instead, they marginalize people by very cleverly saying, “The meter is only communicating very basic information.” Unfortunately, that very basic information, particularly if the readings are being taken often enough — and many of these meters can be verified to broadcast far more often than the utilities or the manufacturer will tell you — provide all of the data necessary to determine much greater detail in relationship to your usage.

  • Soapbox Jill

    Assumptions must be addressed:

    *the meters are low power.” The bursts often measure at over 1999µ/W per meter squared 24/7.

    *low power chronic pulses/bursts of microwaves and radiofrequency radiation are safe. This is simply not been tested or proven, though thousands of studies show many biological effects of MW/RF below FCC allowed guidelines. Please see:
    http://stopsmartmeterswisconsin.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/no-studies-conclude-that-wireless-smart-meters-are-safe.pdf

    You neglected to mention that unlike analog meters these wireless digital meters collect readings throughout the day, not just a running total. This usage data can show a profile of patterns in a home. The raw data can be analyzed to show which appliances are used, even before the embedded ZigBee transceiver (in recent meters) is actually turned on to talk to smart appliances.

    Please see:

    http://stopsmartmeterswisconsin.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/how-smart-meters-invade-individual-privacy.pdf
    You clearly know some of the technical details, but the facts about health risks and data collection need are lacking. Thanks.

  • Soapbox Jill

    P.S. Please share instances of evil meter readers and their crimes if you have any. Thanks.

  • Soapbox Jill

    One more thing, water meters are often inside people’s basements sending pulses of RF radiation through your whole house to be read on the street or at a collector site. You cannot turn them off or move them like you can with a cell phone. It is 100% involuntary radiation 24/7.

  • Chia Chee

    1. at the very minimum this allows for usage rates to differ at different times of the day which WILL cost you more. Cooking your evening meal will cost more as will taking your morning shower, because usage is higher. Win for utility shareholders.
    2. this allows for tracking of what you are doing and when. With electricity, almost all appliances have a frequency that is unique, so it can be tracked when you are using that plasma cutter in the basement while listening to AM radio. Just wait for the feds to show up.
    3. everything else people have said.

  • MM59

    Some basic things to understand:
    1. Smart meters are not meters. They are “network management and communication” equipment that happen to contain a meter component. In the electric use – they will manage the NAN (neighborhood area network) and the HAN (Home area network).
    2. Transmissions- They are short burst, yes, but do go 24/7. PG&E was forced by judge to release its transmissions. The avg meter transmitted over 10,000/day, the maximum meter (yes, not all meters are created equal – some are serving different roles in the mesh network) transmitted 190,000/day. (Note: these transmissions do not include the HAN).

    3. Remember your privacy laws protect you, right. Well, that promise is usually coached as your data is safe and won’t be disclosed except for warrants and “regulated business purposes”. Check out CA where proceedings are going on to determine “data uses”. Everyone is lined up for the data (govt agencies, research and academic centers, etc. They identified 9 data use cases that they are currently working out the rules for – there will be more in the future.
    4. For electric – read and understand the “Grid 2030” and “national technology roadmap”. Both documents produced by our govt (DOE). One of the goals is “intercontinental bulk transfers of power”. They are building a global grid. Check out also the Tres Amigas Project.

    5. They are obsessed that we don’t treat electricity as they think it should be – a commodity. As you know, they are able to manipulate commodity pricing today.
    They talk about getting rid of the roadblocks – state regulatory authority. They want to split the power generation portions from the distribution (and have done so in some states).
    There is more. Educate yourselves. Smart meters are for control and they are part of the initial infrastructure needed to accomplish their goals.

    The cost? Plenty and will keep growing. Check out those states ahead of you. Look at Boulder, CO as well as what is happening in Maine. You will not save money over the long run.