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updated: 12/30/2011 5:50 PM

Naperville smart meter foes take case to federal court

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Daily Herald report

A group of Naperville residents filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking to halt the installation of so-called smart meters scheduled to begin next month in the city.

Members of the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group said they are asking the court to stop the city from installing such meters until "reasonable safeguards" are in place and a "common sense alternative option" is made available to residents.

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City officials, meanwhile, said they plan to proceed with the meter installation for more than 57,000 electric customers and are confident the U.S. District Court will dismiss the case.

"The Smart Meter Awareness Group has pursued their opposition to the city's project in multiple forums, including frequent appearances at city council meetings, numerous (Freedom of Information Act) requests, appeals to the attorney general and now a federal lawsuit," city attorney Margo Ely said in a written statement. "The lawsuit raises no new issues ... It simply has no merit."

The installation of wireless smart meters is part of a $22 million Smart Grid Initiative in Naperville. Officials say the project is a safe upgrade to the city's $360 million electric network to provide more efficient, cost-effective and reliable service to customers.

Opponents say they're concerned about the long-term health risks associated with the wireless meters and safety concerns associated with connecting to a wireless network.

The opposition group wants to put a referendum question on the spring ballot, but a smart meter supporter already has challenged the legitimacy of its petitions.

"We were hopeful that the city and utility leaders would take the referendum seriously," Jen Stahl, a founding member of the awareness group said in a written statement. "They have repeatedly said that only a small number of residents are concerned with this project. We showed them that is not the case."

Kim Bendis, president of the opposition group, said in a written statement that members decided to take the issue to court when it "became clear that our city officials are no longer acting in the public's best interest. They have failed to stop the project in the face of public outcry. Without adequate choice, we feel the council left us no other option."

But City Manager Doug Krieger said the smart grid proposal is "a needed infrastructure upgrade that will empower our customers with more information, data and options on how and when they consume energy. Much like the Internet has transformed how we bank, shop and purchase music, the smart grid will dramatically improve how our customers track and manage their electricity usage."

City officials said they've been working on the project for a year and a half and have devoted "several thousand hours of staff time and resources ... to dispelling miscommunication, untrue statements and responses to this group dedicated to halting the project."

Members of the awareness group said the Illinois attorney general is investigating the city for "what appears to be clear violations of the Open Meetings Act" regarding the smart meter issue.

Tom Glass, a member of the Smart Meter Awareness board, said any such violation would be a serious offense "and one that brings all decisions relating to this project into question."

"The Naperville Smart Grid Initiative project remains on time, within budget and on course," Naperville Community Relations Manager Nadja Lalvani said in a written statement. "This is absolutely the right thing to do for our customers."

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