One of the red herrings thrown about during the discussions of Naperville’s deployment of “smart” electric meters was that these devices were fire hazards.
Those in opposition to the devices used pictures of burned out meters to contend that these fires were proof older analog meters were safer than radio-equipped digital ones.
As with many of the arguments made, there was a grain of truth. But, there was also a high degree of sensationalism, speculation and conjecture.
“Facts” were taken out of context to fuel a discussion designed to generate FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the campaign to stop the meter deployment. With Naperville more than 99 percent equipped with smart meters, the argument is moot, but the allegations remain.
Receiving much less attention were recent findings by the Illinois Commerce Commission concerning fires associated with smart-meter deployments within Commonwealth Edison’s service territory. The report’s conclusion was that these fires were not because of the meter but rather a result of the installation process.
The gist of the report, which is ComEd attributed and confirmed by a subsequent independent investigation, says that the fires and overheated meters were because of loose connections and corrosion in customer-owned meter bases. Commission staff concluded that “three primary causes are (1) aged and deteriorated meter bases and the electrical connections inside the meter bases that ComEd did not repair, replace or report; (2) customer tampering; and (3) accidents.”
Staff also indicated that because meter housings are sealed and impossible for property owners to regularly inspect, “ComEd should have identified and either repaired or replaced the deteriorated equipment inside meter bases that caused smart meters to overheat.” Clarifying, the meter belongs to the electric utility while the socket and premises wiring to which it attaches belongs to the property owner. Using a different installation protocol, including addressing defective housings when encountered, downstate utility Ameren installed 650,000 meters without incident.
So how does this relate to Naperville?
Agenda Item I.3 at the Sept. 17 City Council meeting requested approval of a change order to the smart-meter installation contract to cover additional costs related to repair or replacement of meter sockets. With this approval, more than $206,000 has been allocated to improve the safety of meters by repairing issues found during installation.
According to Mark Curran, director of the Naperville electric utility, “We are in the final stages of repairing faulty sockets and associated customer equipment, and we will have completed 267 repairs at an average cost of approximately $775 each. The 267 meter locations requiring repair represent just under 0.5 percent of installations.”
So, faced with the choice of “red-tagging” the meter socket and forcing the customer to make expensive repairs, Naperville improved the safe delivery of power for 267 homes and businesses at a very nominal cost.
Next steps will be rolling out the e-Portal that will enable interested customers to access their consumption data. This software is being tested. Curran tells me that initial e-Portal availability is planned for the end of the calendar year.
Bob Fischer is president of the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation. Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org