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updated: 8/1/2011 5:50 PM

Smart grid opponents not happy with Naperville alternative

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After analyzing several options, Naperville officials are prepared to offer a non-wireless smart meter alternative that would be read manually by a meter technician, offer significantly lower RF emissions and pose a mitigated cybersecurity risk.

Opponents of the city's plan to install such a meter on every home as part of the city's $22 million smart grid initiative, however, say, "Thanks but no thanks."

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For several months opponents to Naperville's wireless "smart-grid" plan have pleaded with the city to consider a non-wireless option or halt the plan all together as concerns mount regarding privacy and potentially cancer-causing radiation.

City Manager Doug Krieger said the city has had slightly more than 100 requests from residents wanting a smart meter without wireless functionality. He said the city's electric utility officials studied four options, including wiring the meters through cable, telephone and fiber optic lines a and decided to offer the manual read system that will require meter technicians to manually collect the data from the meters.

"We looked at different options and the manual read is the cheapest. Therefore it is the one that we would be recommending," Krieger said. "And it will be available to anyone who wants one."

A residential customer who elects the manual-read meters can expect to pay a one-time, $68.35 cost for the meter and a monthly fee of $24.75. The other options, such as running the meter through the phone line, carried similar monthly costs but included a one-time fee of as much as $876.66.

Diana Ostermann, a former Naperville resident who represents the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group said the group is still calling on the city to halt the program.

"We appreciate the city's effort to offer something of an alternative but this doesn't take care of problem," she said. "While it may limit the radio frequencies, it does nothing to alleviate the privacy issues or the potential dangers of electrical transients that can re-enter the electrical utility.

"If every house around you has a wireless meter, not having one on your house isn't going to help you."

Ostermann instead suggests the city allow residents to retain their current analog meters since those also need to be read by a meter technician.

"We need to just halt the program and assess the data we have," she said. "In my corporate work experience, I have found that people will lock in on a solution, even as circumstances change. That's what's happening here so I don't believe (smart meters) are a good answer. Period."

The city however, is not backing away from the program. Testing has already begun to ensure the equipment is operating properly before the anticipated full rollout starting in November.

Two pilot programs are being executed. The first took place in-house at the city's Electric Service Center and tested basic equipment functionality. Through September, the second pilot is focusing on the smart meter installation process and related resident communications, installation and operation of part of the telecommunications network, call center operations, radio frequency (RF) testing and other key business processes such as customer billing.

The city maintains the project is an investment in Naperville's city-owned utility that will modernize the city's electric grid using digital technology.

The Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group will host a presentation from 6 to 8 p.m. (Tuesday) at the 95th Street Library during which they will attempt to persuade residents to opt out of the program.

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