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Suspicious water customers have reached an agreement with the city of Baraboo over its use of meters that automatically track usage data.

Smart meter holdouts James and Darcy Sheriff have allowed the city to install a new water meter on their home, but without the device that allows the data it records to be automatically transmitted back to the water utility.

“It is a better situation, and we’re grateful we can have this meter installed,” Darcy Sheriff said. “We’re hoping it’s a good meter and it will last.”

The Sheriffs and another customer, Audrey Parker, refused for months to allow the city’s water utility to install smart meters on their homes, citing privacy and health concerns. The holdout became statewide news after the city shut off water to their homes earlier this month.

The customers filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. After both provided doctors’ notes showing water service was a medical necessity, their water was restored while the PSC investigated the meter complaint.

On Monday, the Sheriffs reached an agreement with the city. They allowed the city to install a new meter. It’s similar to the ones installed for other customers, but does not have the equipment necessary to transmit data back to the utility. That means city utility workers will have to stop by the Sheriffs’ home to manually read the device.

The city will charge the Sheriffs a fee to manually read the device, and the amount must be approved by the PSC. Because the dispute was settled, the PSC did not issue a ruling on the city’s smart meter requirement.

“Both parties rescinded their complaints, due to finding a resolution with the municipal water utility,” PSC spokesman Nathan Conrad said.

The Sheriffs said they may contest the amount the city plans to charge for reading their meter if it turns out to be an unreasonable amount. They said a possible amount of more than $30 per quarter would be too high.

Wade Peterson, the city’s Utility Superintendent, said the agreement the city reached with the Sheriffs will not be available to other city residents.

“We just wanted to put our best foot forward and get a resolution so we can at least get the meters installed,” Peterson said. “Truly, the Public Service Commission was kind of the middle person. This was a resolution they thought would be fair and equitable and we agreed to that.”

The Sheriffs and other smart meter skeptics say the devices track more than just utility usage, and submit radioactive pulses that can be detrimental to a person’s health. Utility representatives and public health officials say the most common smart meters track only total usage (additional features must be enabled by the customer), and there is little evidence to support health concerns related to negligible radioactivity.

Since the Baraboo controversy erupted earlier this month, a state lawmaker has introduced a bill that would prohibit public utilities, other than telecommunications utilities, from installing smart meters if a customer objects.

“Although some meters in Wisconsin may not currently possess severely intrusive capabilities, many with these capabilities do exist and upgrades are not far behind,” Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R- Fond du Lac, wrote in a recent editorial.

He said the devices can track whether a home is occupied, if the home security system is activated, when a consumer wakes up and goes to bed, and other personal information.

Thiesfeldt also said that data could be vulnerable to “hackers, unauthorized third parties, and potential warrants by overzealous law enforcement.”

Under the bill, people who already have smart meters installed also could opt out. Each utility would be required to submit to the PSC the potential cost of manually reading a person’s meter, and the amount must be approved by the PSC.
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