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In this Wisconsin town, you get the smart meter or they shut you down

By   /   July 10, 2013  /   News  /   23 Comments

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

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 don’t 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 technology’s 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 he’s been hauling five gallon buckets of water into the house for us to flush the toilet,” said Darcy Sheriff, 65. “It’s not even sanitary. It’s 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.

“We’re not political crusader-type people. We just know it’s time to take a stand. This has gone too far. We don’t want this thing in our home,” Sheriff told Wisconsin Reporter on Wednesday. “It’s none of the city’s business when I’m using water or what I’m using. Just that we don’t 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, there’s 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 customer’s 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 nation’s electricity transmission and distribution system. There’s 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 hasn’t 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.

“It’s not an option,” he said. “The service she’s 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 doesn’t 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, doesn’t 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 don’t allow an opt-out option.

“We’re 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 that’s a noble thing, but what’s been happening with smart meters is utility providers by and large don’t 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, don’t want smart meters.”

Thiesfeldt said he’s 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 you’re 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 what’s 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.

Contact Ryan Ekvall at [email protected]


M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.

  • Eli Miller

    “It’s none of the city’s business when I’m using water or what I’m using”
    Unless you are on a private well you are damn right it is their business you old coot. Nice to see the GOP is deeply concerned about the privacy of a few old cranks but is perfectly happy to invade the privacy of women’s nether bits all over the state.

  • Conservative Spartan

    Why did this utility blatently disregard PSC rules?

    PSC 113.0304(4)
    (4) Conditions for disconnection. A utility may disconnect only those households whose gross quarterly incomes are above 250% of the federal income poverty guidelines and where health and safety would not be endangered because of the infirmities of age, developmental or mental disabilities or like infirmities incurred at any age or the frailties associated with being very young, if service were terminated or not restored.
    City of Baraboo contacts are:
    Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm: Phone: 355-2715 Fax: 608-355-2719 Email: [email protected]

    Baraboo Public Safety Committee
    Phil Wedekind (Chair) Phone: 608-356-8147
    Michael Plautz Phone: 608-355-7578
    Tom Kolb Phone: 608-356-6080

  • Terrence Jeffrey Johnson

    Smart meters are all about control. They can control your usage of any energy source or utility. This is all the enviroweenie’s fault, that and their glo”bull” warming hoax.

  • Terrence Jeffrey Johnson

    You sound like a collectivist bum

  • Eli Miller

    Oh you got me boss, I (GASP) believe in the commons and that local governments can provide Schools, Water, Sanitation, Police and Fire protection better and more cheaply than we could as individuals.

  • cazie

    Schools that teach collectivism & relativism, water tainted with flouride, sanitation repackaged and ending up in the water supply….what a fool.

  • chesterarthur

    Funny that.They force you to hook on to the city’s utilities as a condition for a home being considered ‘habitable’,then say you have no choices.Since you are obviously a ‘my body,my choice’ fan of pregnancy-prone-aged women’s privacy,why does no one else deserve similar rights?You want to force the public to pay for a ‘woman’s private choice’,but insist that people accept spy technology on their own homes,without any say in the matter.Phoney doesn’t even begin to describe such delusional thinking.

  • chesterarthur

    You believe that government SHOULD provide coercive force to bend everyone to the will of a few power hungry bureaucrats.Everyone must conform to the statists’ rules.If not,please get on the train,next stop,a cheery government camp.Just ignore the funny smoke from that building over there.Don’t forget to salute der leader when he rides by.

  • Eli Miller

    Wow! you should put down the Ayn Rand and get outside more.

  • Eli Miller

    No one is asking the government to pay for reproductive choice, I am not sure how you drew that conclusion out of my comments. Spy technology? Really? Its a meter for gods sake. Understanding water usage beyond simply how much is used helps to more efficiently manage the supply and respond to customer demand. take off the tin foil had man.

  • cazie

    And you need to quit drinking the kool-aid.

  • Eli Miller

    Well unless smart meters do something that I am unaware of you still control your taps and toilets sweetie. I would love to see the peer reviewed science journals that lead you to believe that climate change is a hoax? Oh wait there aren’t any.

  • Eli Miller

    furthermore would you happen to share a reputable study that says fluorination is dangerous? Or I guess explain in English what “Repackaging Sanitation” even means?

  • cazie

    Guess you forgot flouride was used in the concentration camps of Hitler…or did you not learn this in your ‘so called’ progressive education? Europe has declined to use flouride, and the side by side studies of dental cavities is virtually the same for us and them (that’s the argument for flouride). Look it up Eli. It’s the truth. Furthermore, I’ve never read or watched Ayn Rand-but I do try to research and think for myself.

  • Eli Miller

    Well that didn’t take long to Godwin the discussion. There is also Arsenic in apples and Cyanide in Almonds. Yes fluoride is a poison in certain amounts, amounts that are far below what are in the drinking water. Actually many European countries did use fluoride and while there use is declining partly due to expense and partly due to crackpot theories many still maintain its use. Its funny that you say you don’t but you use blatant objectivist terminology maybe you should check her out shed be right up your alley.

  • Wes

    I have tinfoil hats to go with those water buckets.

  • Eeekkk Miller

    Here is just one
    study done on this very topic.

    And no, I don’t believe the government does ANYTHING better than private
    business or myself can do.

    Rely on yourself – That is what the founding fathers wanted.

    Here’s one link (there are many, many more:http://thyroid.about.com/cs/toxicchemicalsan/a/flouride.htm

  • cazie

    Keep your leftist hypothesis about Nazi speak out of the conversation. It was used, in excess, by them to control the Jewish people awaiting their slaughter as it subdues. And Europe did not decline due to expense, just as they have banned Monsanto frankensoods-they seem to realize what is bad for human injestion a lot sooner than those in this country bowing to corporation lobbying. You are welcome to eat tainted food, and ingest water with flouride if you like. You, and the elitists don’t get to decide what I or someone else wants to be exposed to. The theories you call crackpot have been proven by many extremely intelligent and credible scientists. And then, because they don’t go along with those endorsing their flouride or smart meter agenda, they are smeared and discredited by those on your side of the aisle.

  • Unsooper

    I’ve already used your smart meter to tell me when you are home, when you have guests, when there is a spike in electric usage possibly indicating a pot farm, if you are watering on days when it is illegal, and of course central control of the meter will reduce electricity during hot days to prevent strain on the grid and make selective blackouts possible. But don’t worry; just like the IRS and the NSA they would never disclose your personal information or target you politically. Never. If you are a problem at city hall you may not have enough power for heat or cooling but it is necessary for everyone to cooperate. Public utilities are actually bond sellers and on the exchange. To be considered for that they must show a 75% return on service costs. You WILL submit.

  • Dan

    Yet another reason to go solar…

  • WoodyBoyd

    I bet buried in the original law that allowed for the City Water installation there is a part that says if the City shuts them off and refuses to turn it back on that they are allowed to drill a water well. If so, seems like the solution and if it were me I would already have the drilling company parked in my yard for the City to see. Add a propane generator and you are all set to give the City a middle finger.

  • Anonymous

    Shame on you…”old coot” is a nasty description of a person who is trying to keep his privacy. How does the GOP enter into this water situation? Oh wait…everything is either Bush’s fault or now it seems the GOP in WI. If the liberal women hadn’t started the invasion of women’s “nether bits”, we all would not have to listen to the abortion issue ad nauseum. Funny how the liberals are always screaming “foul” while they dance to the tune of government involvement into every aspect of our lives. Let’s stick to the water issue here.

  • beverly

    Drill the well. I am all for being independent and not participating in the communist state we are heading for. This is a violation of the 4th Amendment…I live in a city and digging a well would only produce sea water. At least in WI you would be able to drill in a town that size. Best of luck…and thank you for taking a stand. There are cities all over the country now that have blocked Smart Meters and those called by other names that do the same kind of spying.