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Alder Lauren Cnare

Alder Lauren Cnare

Home Address:
5218 Kevins Way
Madison , WI 53714

Phone: 608-235-9179
Common Council Office:
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Room 417
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Why Smart Meters are NOT a Dumb Idea

June 19, 2012 7:44 AM

Tonight the most interesting thing on the Common Council agenda is approving another step along the way to replacing the obsolete water meters each of us has in our homes with modern technology: the smart meter. It's called Project H20.

As a member of the Council and the Water Board, I have supported this technology all along and will continue to do so tonight as we vote on another step to implement the program this summer throughout the city. I am confident it is safe, based on the preponderance of expert opinion; it will further the city's efforts to conserve water by increasing more real time awareness of use of water and it responds to customer requests for monthly billing.

For the last three years, the Council and the water utility, with the approval of the water board and two mayors, have worked toward this massive project that will allow customers to better monitor their water usage with monthly bills – just like we do with our other utilities like electric, gas and phone. This is something customers have asked for to better monitor use and budget payments. The real-time measurement of water use means leaks can be detected within a few days, instead of weeks or months later, both saving water and customer money.

With a goal of reducing water consumption by 20% in 2020, this system is part of other measures like the low-flow toilet rebate programs to help us ever avert water shortages in the future. (And this year, that seems like a particularly good idea!)

The second reason the utility is moving to a new system is that the other one is literally obsolete and parts and new equipment for replacement and new homes will no longer be available. Something must be done.

Normally, issues like changing technology are routine, but there are some people who have recently come to the table expressing concerns about the technology and a lack of public awareness of this changeover.

The technology is based on "RF" or radio frequency, which is the same "wave" that radios, cell phones and even the electric/gas meter in our homes use. The water meters work by sending very small and frequent pulses to antenna-like collectors throughout the city to measure water use in almost real time for an accurate and up-to-date bill every month. Customers could even check use on-line as quickly as one day later. So if you really want to know what watering the lawn or filling the pool or the teen shower use is, you can get a pretty good estimate.

As with any scientific topic, one can find scientists that disagree, and with lots of letters behind their names and employment at prestigious universities or associations, it can be difficult to find that truth with the capitol T. This technology is no different, so the Pubic Health Department for Madison and Dane County was asked to review all the scientific literature and make a recommendation. Their conclusion is that this technology in this use is safe. Some vocal residents in the city have expressed doubt and in response the utility will offer an "opt out" provision so people with these health fears can have the meter installed outside their homes instead of inside. There will be an additional installation charge for this; regular installation is at no cost to the customer.

A second concern is that these monitors will spy on people. The only spying is measuring water use. The signal is scrambled to blind identity so none of us can know what the neighbors' water usage is, nor can they check on yours.

A third concern is that the public didn't know. This topic has been part of several city budgets, news stories, broadcasts of the Water Board and Common Council meetings, and in the annual water report to all customers with a meter. None of us keeps track of everything happening, and I can understand people not following it over the last three years - but this topic has not been hidden from the public in anyway.

For you to learn more about this system, the Water Utility has posted many relevant documents including the Health Department report, FAQs, a map of the proposed installation schedule and answers to an advocacy group's questions on the Web site: More are going up today. You can also see the schedule of news media coverage and meetings where the issue was discussed.

Tonight, at 5:30 before the Council meeting, the Water Utility is providing an update to the Council that has been scheduled for months, which is now even timelier since the questions some have raised. And, the Council will vote on a next step of installation regarding the requirement to allow access to homes for the meter changeover and placement of the collector units on light poles in the city. You are welcome to attend in person, or watch on your computer at Madison City Channel The meeting will not be TV broadcast.

Look forward to a letter from the Water Utility in the next couple weeks summarizing the program and letting you know when our area is up for the meter changeover, which will require an appointment to gain access to your home from a water utility employee or contractor with the installation team.

Please e-mail if you have any concerns; and feel free to contact the Water Utility for the advanced tech questions at 266-4651.

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