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updated: 5/7/2014 5:01 AM

Naperville OKs free test of electric management system

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A group of electric customers in Naperville is in store for a free test of an online portal that will partner with the electric smart meters installed in the city to help manage power usage and rates.

The city council on Tuesday approved a free trial of a system that will allow 100 users to test a portal developed by Canadian firm Lowfoot for three months. The system is intended to let customers better manage their electric usage and potentially save money by choosing whether they want to be charged a flat rate or a varying rate depending on the time of day they use electricity.

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"In this case, we really need to kick the tires a bit to see if there's a good fit," council member Robert Fieseler said about the Lowfoot system.

Approval of the trial came about three months after the city filed a lawsuit against Calico Energy Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., which was supposed to deliver an online energy management system under a contract the city approved in 2010.

Of the 100 free trials available, 50 will be reserved for residential customers chosen through a lottery, said Mark Curran, director of the city's electric utility.

Spots also will be made available to the 20 largest commercial electric customers -- who now are being charged different rates for electricity based on the time of day they use it -- and to city council members, Naperville Smart Grid Ambassadors and members of the Public Utilities Advisory Board. The trial is expected to begin around June 1, and while it is ongoing, Curran said the city also will seek information from other companies that could provide a similar online energy management system in the future.

"If we like it, we can continue to see what other options are out there," council member Grant Wehrli said. "If they (Lowfoot) come to us and we don't like it, we're out nothing other than time."

Fieseler said technologies that support these types of systems have advanced since 2010 when the city originally contracted with Calico Energy to build a portal specifically for Naperville Smart Grid users. The test will allow the city to experiment with one version of the software while investigating other options.

"I'm a big supporter of this, because I think ultimately that's going to be the most economical and effective solution for the city," Fieseler said.

The council unanimously supported the free trial of the system, but council member Doug Krause voiced concern about the possibility of choosing another contractor that won't deliver the promised technology.

"My concern is I don't want to go down this path and have the same problem we had with Calico," Krause said.

City spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said Calico has filed legal documents to answer the city's lawsuit, and the matter is progressing through court. The city is attempting to recover nearly $800,000 it has paid to Calico since the contract began.

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