Utility customers across the state could end up paying higher rates, if the state were to enact a proposal that would allow residents to opt out of having so-called “smart meters” installed in their homes.
Legislation from state Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) would give customers the option of turning down the new meters, which wirelessly report utility usage information for billing purposes. Wisconsin Utilities Association Executive Director Bill Skewes says the plan would likely force many utilities to raise rates, since they would have to hire people to go out and physically read meters again. He says the use of smart meters has helped utilities cut back on staffing costs by streamlining the billing process.
AUDIO: Bill Skewes, WUA (:17)
Thiesfeldt says the bill was prompted by privacy concerns about how data collected by the meters could be used. Skewes says those worries are largely the result of people not understanding the technology. He says utilities cannot, by law, share customer information with anyone. He also notes that the meters gather only the most basic data and would not allow anyone to differentiate what types of appliances are being used.
While Thiesfeldt’s bill does not address the topic, some customers have also raised health concerns about exposure to the wireless signals sent out by the meters. Skewes says he’s not aware of any peer reviewed studies that would substantiate those claims.
Skewes says the Association will likely oppose the legislation, if it receives a hearing at the Capitol.