Naperville OKs SmartGrid promotion

Updated 2/8/2011 2:41 PM

Last month, several Naperville councilmen's stomachs were turned by a $465,000 price tag for a public relations firm to help educate residents about the city's installation of Smart Grid energy technology.

Tuesday evening, however, a majority of them found a $390,000 plan, divided into three portions, more to their liking.


By a 5-4 vote, councilmen approved the first phase communications plan which, through June 2011, includes the setting of identity, visual and graphic standards development of a customer privacy and advocacy plan and a user handbook, at a price of $135,000. Council members also directed staff to do as much work as possible internally and provide monthly reports to the council outlining all expenditures and reasons why any work was outsourced.

The second and third phases, which cost about $120,000 and contain refined and final versions of the plans contained in the first phase, will need to be approved by council at a later time.

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.

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

City Manager Doug Krieger presented councilmen with the scaled down plan that includes more work done in-house but said the complexity of the system requires the outside help.

"The installation of SmartGrid is absolutely in the best interest of the city from a financial and quality of service standpoint. It is also one in which we did see other communities do things wrong," Krieger said. "It is a very technical, complex subject that in some cases is difficult to translate from the technical jargon into plain English."

Councilmen James Boyajian, Doug Krause and Dick Furstenau all opposed the repackaged plan, adamant that in-house staff members could do many, if not all of the duties being farmed out. Furstenau took it a step further, however, suggesting any program requiring that much public relations work be given a second look.

"If this is all warranted, we better take a look at the program," he said. "If we have to spend $500,000 to convince people it's a good idea, I don't believe this program is all that hot."


Councilman Robert Fieseler supported the previous $465,000 plan and the one approved Tuesday, citing the 30 percent annual growth expected in the Smart Meter market as more communities come on board.

"We're not going to try to change minds. We're in this to empower people to use the features and make better energy decisions," he said. "We should be making use of the entire spectrum of talent available to us to make that happen."

Three residents also pleaded with the council to deny the contract and save the money by keeping the work local or in house.

"This is putting lipstick on a decision and muzzle the dissent," said resident Sandra Glass. "This is not a local firm but a Chicago firm touting association with Carter White House. Save some money and let citizens take charge."