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posted: 10/5/2011 5:00 AM

Naperville council approves Smart Meter alternative

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When Smart Grid opponents demand to "opt-out" of Naperville's $22 million Smart Grid Initiative, they literally want out. They don't consider a nonwireless option an option at all. But that's what they'll be getting as soon as Nov. 1.

Nearly 20 Naperville residents pleaded with city council members to halt the $22 million Smart Grid Initiative program. Two were so passionate, they couldn't follow the council chamber rules and were escorted from the meeting by police officers.

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In the end, however, seven of the eight councilmen present lined up to support the program the city has been invested in for 19 months and voted 7-1 to provide a nonwireless option 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.

"I'm convinced people will not be physically harmed, and the work around is a fair one," Councilman Bob Fieseler said. "This is an item that deserves to be approved tonight."

Councilman Kenn Miller said he's frustrated by the "misinformation" that found its way into the argument.

"I just don't see anything today that would change my mind on what I voted for before," he said.

Councilman Joe McElroy said he too thought the fear of the wireless meters is unfounded.

"I've thought about this a lot," he said. "What if you're wrong and it turns out this is more akin to 100 years ago when cars were not allowed on roads because they might scare the horses?"

Opponents believe even the workaround meters being proposed for them fail to address their privacy and safety concerns.

"We want our analogue meters with the little dial that spins around and doesn't cause RF emissions or share our information," said Jennifer Stahl, a member of the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group. "I want green energy. That's my thing, but I want it safely."

Residents who now ask for the nonwireless 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.

Stahl said the alternative is unacceptable and the group will continue to urge residents to demand to keep the analogue meter, and she said the group eventually plans to present the city council with a 3,000 signature petition urging again for the program to be halted.

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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