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Naperville Residents Have Doubts About Electrical Smart Grid

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) -- As Naperville moves closer to an electric smart grid, some residents are complaining about the wireless meters the city is installing.

As WBBM Newsradio 780's Nancy Harty reports, opponents of the wireless "smart meters" cite information privacy and potentially cancer-causing radiation as reasons the city should slow down its smart-grid plan.

Kim Bendis, a member of the group Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, said she has a binder filled with reports of research suggesting the idea might be sound, but implementation remains flawed enough that people should be concerned. Some research, for example, finds that the possibility of gaps in data encryption within the system could imperil privacy.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780's Nancy Harty reports


"The technology is moving at a faster rate than security can protect it," Bendis said.

The City of Naperville is moving quickly to capitalize on matching funds for the $22 million endeavor.

As a governing body and a municipal utility, the city is aware of its liability exposure. Details for ensuring security of data gathered through the meters can't be divulged, because that would violate security policies, but the city will retain an outside cyber security expert to conduct an audit gauging the strength of the plan.

"Naperville will support any future systems with the same defensive approach it applies today to its current systems," an online portion of the synopsis of the city's security guide reads. "Naperville's strategy includes documented and enforced methods for information protection, physical access control, authentication structure, data access and change control and documentation procedures."

Meter foes nonetheless have their doubts. The opponents' Web site notes, "we hear from the World Health Organization that non-ionizing radiation, like that of a smart meter, is a suspected carcinogen."

Although biophysical research indicates there are no significant health hazards related to the meters, some opponents believe the meters could have an adverse effect on those who are sensitive to electromagnetic and radio frequencies.

Bernie Saban stresses that the meters' emission levels are extremely low, however. As a utility analyst for the city's Department of Public Utilities, Saban is the person who fields requests from those who want to opt out and have their meters function non-wirelessly, as do their existing analog counterparts.

"I've had people call me on their cell phone to opt out, and my comment to them is, 'You should check the (radio frequency) on your phone, because it's significantly greater than the exposure they would have from one of these meters," he said.

Saban has heard from about 130 residents requesting the "work-around" alternative. Those utility customers will continue to have a meter reader come by to record their usage, and they could be charged more as users of that service.

"We're still outlining the terms and conditions of such a program," Saban said.

Once it is launched, the Smart Grid will enable customers to monitor their energy use. One possible benefit is the ability to pay lower rates during off-peak usage periods, although nearly 60 percent of respondents in a recent survey conducted jointly by the city and North Central College said they would prefer to continue with a flat rate.

Precise rates haven't yet been set, but Bendis said preliminary projections suggesting monthly bills would run about $3 lower don't indicate utility patrons' household budgets would see much benefit.

"I guess it's a question: what are we sacrificing for convenience and cost, long term?" she said.

Although cities such as Austin, Texas, and Sacramento, Calif., have smart grid systems in place, Bendis noted that dozens of communities in other parts of the country have placed moratoriums on smart meters in response to residents' concerns.

She said the city needs to take its time with the program.

"I would encourage the city to just wait. To say, 'OK there's enough out there to just wait,'" she said.

The Naperville Sun contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

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