Naperville residents get smarter about the grid

In a few weeks several Naperville homeowners will begin having smart meters installed on their homes as part of the Naperville Smart Grid Initiative.

To prepare them for the process, the city hosted the first of 14 traveling open houses Wednesday at Washington Junior High School. Smart Grid “ambassadors,” residents trained to answer a range of questions and concerns related to the smart grid and installation of smart meters, were on hand, along with visual displays.

“Probably the most controversial thing we're being asked about tonight is the concern about radio frequency emissions and whether or not its harmful,” said Ambassador Jim Hill. “I think it's based on your beliefs and what credibility you put into one source of information versus another. Personally, I don't believe it's any more harmful than a cellphone or toaster oven that we've been living with for the last 20 years.”

City officials believe the digital smart meters can and will measure energy use in near-real time and securely and safely transmit this data remotely to the city's electric utility on a daily basis, giving customers a new level of awareness and control over their energy use.

Opponents of the $22 million initiative, however, believe the wireless meters pose both health and security threats and have filed petitions to have an advisory referendum on the March ballot that would ask the city to stop the installation of the meters.

Those opponents, several members of the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group, were also in attendance, both inside and outside the meeting. Those who have demanded their analog meters not be changed wore pink glow sticks around their necks.

“We're asking folks what they thought of the presentation and everybody is dissatisfied,” said Jennifer Stahl. “People feel like there's a mountain of things to review on both sides of the issue, but it's crunchtime.”

Mark Curran, director of the city's energy department, said he was pleased with the turnout and hopes it sets the tone for the remaining 13 open house meetings to be held through August.

“People are interested in what we're doing with the program so they wanted to come out and learn about the project and what we're doing,” Curran said. “It's been good with a lot of positive conversation, so we're going to take the show on the road.”

Future meeting dates and times will be announced on the city's Web page.

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  Smart Grid Ambassador Al Glodowski speaks with Naperville resident Tim Ory Wednesday during an open house at Washington Junior High, where Naperville residents could learn more about the Naperville Smart Grid Initiative (NSGI). Mark Black/
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