Naperville tables $465,000 PR firm contract for 'Smart Grid'

Posted8/20/2010 12:01 AM

The $465,000 price tag for a public relations firm to help educate Naperville residents about the city's installation of Smart Grid energy technology appears too large for some council members to swallow.

Council members tabled a proposal this week to hire a Chicago-based consulting firm for three years to design logos and branding for the Naperville Smart Grid Initiative, oversee public relations and resident education regarding the new technology, and draft a user-friendly citizen handbook.


The Smart Grid is a $22 million upgrade to Naperville's nearly $360 million electric utility that officials believe will cut energy costs for the city and its residents.

When completed in 2012, it will include more than 57,000 "smart meters" that will help the city and residents track energy use. Officials hope the ability to monitor such use will encourage residents to consume less energy or use it during off-peak hours.

Naperville is one of roughly 100 communities nationwide to pursue the new technology.

"Smart Grid absolutely works. (But) if you look at the track record of other communities that have implemented this, a lot of them have done a lousy job implementing it and a lot of that has to do with their inability to provide timely, accurate public information," City Manager Doug Krieger said. "This isn't to help people buy in. This is to help people make better decisions surrounding Smart Grid. The dollar amount is a lot of money but there's a lot of work associated with this."

Several council members weren't buying it, however, and sent Krieger back to the drawing board, encouraging him to incorporate the city's in-house public relations experts and trim about $314,000 off the price tag.

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"I want to instruct our city manager to lay out what the communication needs are and steps we believe are critical to achieve the objectives of the city to get our return on our investment and to provide you adequate time and understanding so you can get the benefits and return on your own electric bill," Councilman James Boyajian said. "Then I want to understand which of those things can be done by city staff and for which do we need to rely on some outside expert."

Doug Krause agreed.

"This is a waste of taxpayers money. I'm sorry. We should be spending this on equipment to make it work, not to pay for a PR company," he said. "The bottom line is we have something new that's coming here and we need to educate people and we need to do it in-house because we have professional people on our staff who have the ability to get the word out."

Councilman Robert Fieseler said half the upgrade cost for the project is being funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and the cost of the public relations contract would be included in that $22 million.

"It's not like we can move it and pay for two police officers or pay for another leaf collection," he said. "This is not that kind of fund."

Krieger will report back to the council in September with an update on duties he believes can be performed by city staff to cut down the public relations cost.