Smart meter project wrapping up soon
By Susan Frick Carlman email@example.com January 29, 2013 4:08PM
Smart meters are on display with an analog model for visitors to an open house on the new Smart Grid Initiative Wednesday in Naperville. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 7:29PM
Naperville is coming up on the home stretch for its Smart Grid Initiative.
Part of a nationwide but still-controversial shift, the project involves installation of digital devices that use radio waves to report consumers’ electricity use to their local utilities. It’s part of an ongoing overhaul of U.S. utility systems, aimed at updating delivery networks to tap computer-derived technologies that offer features such as remote repair and automatic monitoring of power use.
Skeptical of the city’s assertion that the new system will cut electric bills, local opponents also implicate smart meters in fires and illness, and assert they threaten consumers’ privacy. Those on both sides of the issue cite studies supporting their perspectives on the devices.
Naperville decision makers have not been swayed so far. Nearly all of the 57,000 wireless electric meters planned to take the place of the current analog versions have been installed, City Manager Doug Krieger said Tuesday.
“We have about 165 left, most of those due to what are basically broken socket issues,” said Krieger, who noted the problem presents a potential fire hazard. “When you pull (an older meter) off, you should do an inspection, make sure the sockets are intact, before you install the new ones.”
The connections also need to be secure. ComEd has said a trio of fires that originated at smart meters in the western suburbs since 2010 were caused by ill-fitting sockets.
For the first three months after the new meters are installed in Naperville, readers will continue to come out and manually record usage, to cross-check the data with the remote readings, Krieger said.
Problems have been few, other than an incident The Sun broke last week in which two longtime smart meter opponents were cited for alleged misdemeanor violations after city employees came out to install a meter at one of their homes. Their group, Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, has experienced several legal setbacks in their effort to halt the project, but a federal lawsuit it filed against the city remains in its preliminary stages.
Efforts to reach the two residents who were arrested were unsuccessful.
Others also have chosen to continue with non-wireless monitoring.
“There have been a number of people who would prefer not to have us install our new meters,” Krieger said, putting the number at about 250 residents. “We’ll still need to send a meter reader into the back yard to read the meter.”
Those residents will pay $24.75 monthly for that service, in addition to the $68.35 cost of the alternative meters.
The old analog devices are no longer compatible with the design of the city’s processing and billing systems.
Some homeowners are taking a hybrid approach to their power, using electricity supplied by the city utility along with energy producers they own, such as solar panels and wind turbines. The smart meters keep track of all the power used, but the city reimburses the customer for the portion that was generated at home. Fewer than 100 residents are doing that so far, Krieger said, “but that’s likely to be an area that’s going to grow.”
And while nobody has done it yet, residents can petition to go off grid entirely, producing all of their own energy.
“We would consider that and allow them to do that as soon as we’re able,” Krieger said.
A specific end date for the project has not yet been set, but the city can’t apply for any more of its $11 million in federal matching funds any later than April. Krieger said the final cost will likely be between $23 million and $24 million, including a software upgrade planned for a late summer or early fall release that will refine functionality for all meters, especially those at homes where some of the energy comes from renewable sources.
“That’s when you say it’s really done-done,” Krieger said.