Naperville Smart Grid opponents renew calls to halt project

When Naperville officials signed off on a $22 million venture, in April 2010, to install 57,000 smart meters on every home and business in the city, Kim Bendis had concerns.

The Naperville nurse practitioner was concerned about her family’s safety and privacy as officials talked of linking the meters to a Smart Grid that will let both the city and residents track their energy use.

But as she began researching the privacy concerns, she came across articles that began to concern her more, specifically dealing with health concerns believed to be associated with varying levels of exposure to radio frequency waves, ranging from difficulty concentrating to the development of childhood leukemia.

“I was skeptical but as I looked into all of these experts whose history is such that they’ve been studying the microwave radiation for decades,” she said. “If this is safe, show me the research that can back up a safety profile on this new wireless technology that we want to put in Naperville.”

Bendis was one of several residents who spoke Thursday evening during a forum hosted by the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group, an organization of residents who have repeatedly asked the city to delay or totally pull the plug on the project until further research can be done in both the health and privacy arenas.

The city, however, has vowed to continue the program and attest to the safety of the meters. The city is conducting a pilot program in the East Highlands area where they plan to install approximately 200 meters. Of those, 71 are in place, including one at City Manager Doug Krieger’s home.

“The purpose of the pilot is to test communication and system integration,” said city spokeswoman Nadja Lalvani.

“As part of the pilot, we conducted an RF emission test to determine levels of RF emissions specifically from the smart meter and have concluded that the meters are 97 percent below FCC standards.”

Diana Ostermann, a former Naperville resident with a work history based in wireless technology, however, called the emissions test a failure and urged residents to ignore the city’s conclusion, saying the tests only measured the levels at which the emissions cause heat and not lower levels which are believed to be associated with the other symptoms.

Naperville Smart Grid Initiative Ambassador Charles Schlabach, who has been trained by the city to answer questions about the initiative and make presentations about the program, said Thursday that he wishes the awareness group would partner with the city to get questions answered rather than “antagonizing” city officials.

“I just wish they would follow the facts. I’m not just pushing this program for the heck of it. I think it can help us

with our energy consumption,” Schlabach said. “We want to make sure this is done right too and if we see the city heading down the wrong path we’re challenging them too. Really we should all be on the same page to get questions answered truthfully for the better of the entire city.”

The city maintains the project is a safe investment in Naperville’s city-owned utility that will modernize the city’s electric grid using digital technology.

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