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updated: 9/29/2011 6:22 PM

Naperville council to consider alternative smart meters

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Opponents of Naperville's Smart Grid initiative have petitioned the city to halt the $22 million program.

Saying they're too far invested in what they believe is a good and safe project, city officials are poised to offer an alternative.

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City council members Tuesday are expected to approve the use of an alternative "smart meter" for residents who have concerns about privacy and the potential for cancer-causing radiation they believe can be emitted by the wireless models scheduled to be installed throughout the city beginning in November.

Bernie Saban, a utility analyst for the city's department of public utilities, said the 208 residents who asked for the non-wireless meter option eventually will receive a smart meter that does not have the ability to communicate wirelessly but will collect the same electric use information as a standard smart meter.

In order to collect that data, however, a technician will be dispatched monthly to manually read data directly from the nonstandard smart meter via a hard-wired connection to a laptop. Customers choosing that option can expect a one-time cost of $68.35 and an initial monthly cost for manual retrieval of meter data of $24.75.

"Once we get these going, that monthly cost will be based on the actual cost for the technician to drive around and manually plug into these meters," Saban said. "And those customers will be eligible for our time-of-use rates once they are calculated. But they will not be able to use the demand response programs like logging in to check your usage from the office or adjusting the thermostat remotely."

Lisa Rooney, of the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group, said her organization appreciates the city's effort to provide an alternative but said they need to head back to the drawing board.

"It's an attempt but it's a weak attempt at best," Rooney said. "This option is neither reasonable nor fair to the citizens of Naperville."

Rooney said the only acceptable solution would be for the city to make the entire Smart Grid program an "opt-in" program and require that all meters be hard-wired.

"By hardwiring, you eliminate the cybersecurity threat and eliminate the radiation exposure," Rooney said. "And by opting in, you give the city permission to access the data, so there are no security concerns."

City officials maintain the wireless meters are safe and emit fewer electromagnetic fields than a cellphone. Ultimately, they say the Smart Grid initiative will help the city and residents save energy and money once meters are installed at roughly 57,000 homes and businesses by 2012.

The Smart Grid is a $22 million upgrade to Naperville's nearly $360 million electric system. The meters are designed to help the city and residents do a better job of tracking energy use. Officials hope the ability to monitor consumption will encourage residents to use less energy or use it during off-peak hours.

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