Hard wired: Smart meter avoidance should continue to come at a cost, Naperville utility chief says

Wireless meters that gather information for Naperville’s smart grid electric distribution system are in place in more than 99.5 percent of the 57,552 residences and businesses served by its municipally owned utility. The small slice of the customer base that uses a non-wireless alternative helped pay for the devices, and they are billed every month for the cost of having the meters read by employees of the utility. A recent analysis of the system resulted in a recommendation that it continue without changes.

“For a customer with a (non-wireless meter), electric usage data is retrieved once a month manually via on-site download and brought back to the city for upload into its meter data management system,” electric utility director Mark Curran said in a memo to be forwarded to the City Council.

The monthly cost of having a technician collect the data using a hard-wired connection, and then feed it into the system that handles billing, comes to $25.86 for each meter. Customers with the non-wireless devices, who paid $68.35 to have them installed, are billed an extra $24.75 for the service.

Among the benefits of the smart grid is its ability to use the collected data to analyze usage patterns and enhance efficiency, ultimately resulting in lower electric bills.

There were other options for gathering the usage data, Curran said, but the decision to use the manual reading system was made because it would bring the lowest customer cost and maintain the reliability of the billing process, and the associated risks to cyber security and of exposure to radio frequency emissions were low.

Some residents opposed the city’s replacement of its analog meters with the digital smart meters in 2012 and 2013, citing concerns about electromagnetic radiation and privacy.

Curran said 272 customers initially opted out of the smart meter switch, but 17 of them later chose to have the wireless devices installed. An additional 11 moved out of their homes, and the city then replaced the non-wireless meters with smart meters.

Another review of the program’s costs will be done next summer, Curran said, and the results again will be forwarded to the City Council.

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