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updated: 1/6/2012 12:22 AM

Naperville smart meter installation moving forward

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Naperville crews have begun installing smart meters despite ongoing disputes over a potential referendum question and a federal lawsuit aimed at stopping the project.

During the first two days of the project, crews installed 553 smart meters and were turned away by 26 residents who refused to exchange their analog meters.

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City spokeswoman Nadja Lalvani said two of those 26 residents said they needed more information and later rescheduled the installation.

"We're very happy with the process so far and think everything is going extremely well," she said. "Everyone wants to talk about the refusals but we've gotten positive feedback, too. One resident even tweeted about how excited he was to have his meter."

Once installed, the meters will immediately begin transmitting usage data to the city, Lalvani said. The ePortal, which allows residents to monitor their own power use, at a cost, from any computer or smartphone, will be made available later in the process.

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, like the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group, 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 group recently filed a federal lawsuit trying to stop the project and the city's electoral board is reviewing the group's petition to put a nonbinding referendum on the March ballot asking residents if the program should be stopped and materials, such as the new meters, removed.

"We're absolutely disappointed the city is moving forward while the project is surrounded by so much controversy," group President Kim Bendis said. "Our referendum is in flux and our federal case is pending. It's really an unwise decision for them to keep pushing forward."

The group has long encouraged residents to refuse the new meters.

Lalvani said residents who refused were given a card with a phone number to call so they could either reschedule the installation or request a non-wireless meter.

"The installers will return to the home two more times over the course of a monthlong installation cycle to attempt to install a wireless meter," she said. "If a resident refuses three times and has not signed up for a non-wireless meter, the installer will return a fourth time and will simply replace the meter."

In between the third and fourth visits the resident will receive additional information about the program and the alternative meter being offered by the city.

"By the time that installer returns for the fourth time we want to make sure that homeowners has as much information as possible about their rights and the city's program," she said.

Anyone choosing a non-wireless meter will pay a one-time charge of $68.35 and roughly $25 a month to have the meters read. Since the option was unveiled this summer, 250 people have expressed interest in the alternative, but only seven have signed up to receive one.

The city's meter deployment map and schedule is available on the city's website at naperville.il.us/smartgrid.aspx.

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