Thirty-three Madison residents filed a petition Friday with state regulators calling for an investigation of Madison's plans to install wireless water meter systems in city properties over the next two years.
The Common Council approved the project last December, and in June authorized the city to enter into an agreement with Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Power and Light to mount devices on utility poles to enable the remote water meter reading system. But some residents have cried foul, saying more study is needed about the possible harmful effects of radio frequency signals used by the system.
Among their requests, the petitioners asked the state Public Service Commission for an "opt-out" policy to be in place before installation begins. The council is expected to vote on such a policy August 7, according to a July 2 email from Tom Heikkinen, general manager of the Madison Water Utility, that was included in the petition.
Petitioners also asked the PSC to rule whether the project is "fair and reasonable" for utility customers and called on the utility to "voluntarily" halt the project until an opt-out plan was in place.
A call to Heikkinen was not immediately returned.
The 58-page petition notes examples of other states that have let consumers opt out of using the meters. And it cites nearly 20 studies outlining research on the effects of frequency emissions from smart meters and cell phones on humans and animals.
A review (PDF) by Public Health Madison and Dane County officials in June concluded the meters were safe. Based on a "thorough review" of research on the topic, there's scant evidence linking health problems with smart meters, officials said.
On the project's website, the water utility says the new system will detect leaks more quickly, allow customers to track their daily water consumption online and save the city money over time by eliminating the need for "meter readers" to walk or drive from house to house.
The project is scheduled to kick off July 9 with a "pilot phase" of 700 homes on the city's northeast side, according to a letter from Heikkinen recently mailed to residents.
To retrofit the old analog meters, utility workers would install a small wireless device on existing meters, usually in basements, that would communicate with devices mounted on utility poles across the city.
[Editor's note: This story was corrected to note that the Common Council approved the project in December.]