Almost overlooked in the frenzy of the Vermont Legislature ending its 2012 session was an amendment to a Senate bill that prohibits Vermont utilities from charging fees to customers who opt not to have a wireless smart meter installed at their home or business.

Smart meters are currently the darling of Green Mountain Power and other utilities. They promise instant, on-demand data on how much power is being used (and exactly how that power is being used) and will be able to tell you how much power your refrigerator is using (if you buy a new refrigerator with a compatible computer chip) and will also be able to communicate power outages to headquarters tout de suite.

And that’s all very well and good. But not everyone is completely sold on the idea. Not everyone wants the Big Brother of electricity knowing exactly what and when and where they are using power. It is a bit Orwellian. Legitimate health concerns have been raised about the impact of all that electronic communication happening in their airspace.

Until last Friday’s legislation passed, people opposed to having a smart meter were going to be required to pay a monthly surcharge for opting out. Senate bill 214 changed that. The bill also requires the Vermont Department of Health and the Department of Public Service to hire an independent consultant to take a look at the health impacts of smart meters.

There are also concerns that rather than saving money by making things more efficient, smart meters will result in a multi-tiered power fee structure.

A Valley Reporter reader from Ontario reported that after his family was switched to a smart meter last year “it was a mess.” Seasonal residents began getting bills based on year-round rates, data about power usage (and the ability to tell when people were home or away) was not carefully kept, and the creation of multi-tiered rates and staggered billing meant three different possible rates during the day and the week. To shower and cook breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m. cost more than to do so earlier or later. Ditto for dinner and the dishwasher and doing the laundry at night.

“Suddenly your life revolved around when you could have a shower or do the laundry. Big Brother is now watching 24/7. I get in trouble from my wife if I forget and turn on the dishwasher before the appointment time that the government has set for me to do that chore. Of course, there was no savings. Try as best as we could to live with the new order our electric bills skyrocketed,” the reader wrote.

If it sounds too good to be true . . .