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Great-grandma’s water back on; smart meter policy could change

By   /   July 12, 2013  /   7 Comments

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – The great-grandmother who fought City Hall and lost has water again – for now.

Just days after the city of Baraboo shut off the water supply of 81-year-old Audrey Parker, the state Public Service Commission ordered the city to turn it back on.

Meanwhile, a PSC official tells Wisconsin Reporter the commission could change its position on mandatory ‘smart meter’ installation.

City Hall vs. Grandma: Audrey Parker, 81, of Baraboo is fighting a one-woman battle against the city. The city shut off Parker's water Tuesday after she repeatedly refused the installation of a 'smart' water meter.

City Hall vs. Grandma: Audrey Parker, 81, of Baraboo is fighting a one-woman battle against the city. The city shut off Parker’s water Tuesday after she repeatedly refused the installation of a ‘smart’ water meter.

As Wisconsin Reporter first reported on Tuesday, the city shut down Parker’s water after she refused to allow the city to install a smart meter at her home.

The Public Service Commission has initiated an investigation into the situation in Baraboo, where city officials also shut off the water of home owners Jim and Darcy Sheriff.

PSC spokesman Nathan Conrad said both Parker and the Sheriffs have produced medical notes, in effect shutting down the city’s ability to stop their water service.

He said that extension lasts 21 days, but if a medical need is demonstrated beyond that, the water would stay on.

“Eventually the issue will need to be resolved (with the city)” Conrad told Wisconsin Reporter.

The Sheriffs water was turned on by mid-afternoon Wednesday, but Parker was still without water that evening.

A little after 9 a.m. Tuesday, Parker left her house to go to the post office. When she returned she found a disconnect notice taped to her front door.

“I saw the blue flag marking the water line and I said, ‘Uh-oh,’” she said. “I thought they might have relented, but not this time. They’re trying to set an example of me.”

Parker received similar notices over the past year, but the city didn’t act on its threats.

Last September she went before the Baraboo Public Safety Committee to present her case to opt-out of the new meter.

Parker told the committee she’s had heart palpitations since the city installed ‘smart’ gas and electric meters outside her home in spring 2012, and that she had health and privacy concerns with the smart meter for her water.

The city says the meters are safe and secure and that it’s “not an option” for residents to opt out.

The high-tech gauges, which use radio-frequency waves 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.

“With 4,612 customers, there’s fewer than a handful left to do,” Tom Pinion, director of Public Works for the city, told Wisconsin Reporter on Wednesday. “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.”

Since then, however, Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, has circulated a bill that would allow all utility customers across the state the option of opting out of new smart meter installation.

The PSC currently leaves it up to city governments whether they want to allow their residents to opt out. On Friday, Conrad said the investigation into the Baraboo was in its infancy, but that it was possible the PSC could change policy to require an opt-out provision.

Contact Ekvall at rekvall@wisconsinreporter.com

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