Dear Utility Customers:
You’ve been hearing a lot about the Naperville Smart Grid Initiative (NSGI) in the last few weeks, and not all of it has been flattering. I’d like to take a few minutes to set the record straight about this project, the tremendous benefits it will have for our City as a whole and you as a municipal utility customer, and the meter installation process.
First, let me remind you what the NSGI is about. The NSGI is basically an upgrade to our electric network to provide more efficient, cost-effective and reliable service and empower customers with more information on their energy usage. Back in 2010, the City of Naperville’s municipally owned utility was awarded and accepted an $11 million matching grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to complete the $22 million project.
Smart meters are an important component of this upgraded electric network. These meters are the tools that allow us to offer you more rate options that could save you money. The efficiencies we will realize on the utility side through the NSGI are also great.
I’d like to answer some common questions I’ve received both recently and in the past about the NSGI.
Did customers have any say in the NSGI?
Absolutely. Customer participation was extremely critical throughout this process. We listened to concerns expressed in writing, through 16 public open houses and during numerous public meetings. In response to input from our customers, we created a non-wireless smart meter alternative that has met the needs of more than 250 customers to date.
Where are we at with meter installation, and why do we need to finish installations now?
We are at 99.7 percent meter installation of the more than 57,000 smart meters. At this point, the remaining meters left to be installed are due to broken meter sockets, obstructions such as decks or siding, and a few refusals of new meters. We are in the process of installing this remaining less than 1 percent of meters. On an important side note, by replacing these meters, we were able to discover and repair numerous broken meter sockets, which could ultimately have posed a safety hazard. These repairs were done at no cost to customers, even though they are technically responsible for such repairs.
This month, we reached a point where we needed to proceed with meter installation to start realizing the benefits of the NSGI. One of the biggest benefits is called “conservation voltage reduction.” It’s not a common term, so let me explain the concept.
Conservation voltage reduction (CVR) allows our utility to essentially “fine tune” its electric system to better monitor and understand how much power is going out over our lines and make sure that we’re not wasting any of it. By fine tuning our system, we can buy less power and pass along that cost savings to our customers. If we did not have smart meters installed, conservation voltage reduction and its associated cost savings would not be possible. The City will ultimately save an estimated $2 million annually in operations by implementing CVR. Remember, because we are a not-for-profit municipal utility, we pass along cost savings to you.
We’re also in the process of activating smart meters for billing purposes, which is another important reason to finish the installation of all meters.
What has the City done to notify customers about these installations?
Our customers have had several touch points to date, including letters and postcards sent directly to their homes and businesses prior to initially scheduled installation. Currently, the City is continuing to work with customers who have obstructions or broken meter sockets preventing installation. For those customers who refused meter installation, multiple attempts were made to contact the customer.
Why were police present during the installations?
Police were present for one major reason: safety. Based on previous attempts to install meters, we believed some of these installations would be challenging. For the safety of our employees and all parties involved, including our customers, we wanted to have a police presence available.
Why were the police, City workers and the City’s meter installation contractor able to go onto private property?
The City owns the electric meters on residential homes and commercial buildings. Our Municipal Code provides us with the right to freely access customers’ property for the purpose of replacing City-owned equipment – including the meters.
Why were two individuals arrested on January 23, 2013, in relation to these meter installations?
On January 23, we encountered a customer who would not provide our City officials and City meter installer with clear access to their meter. After several warnings, the customer refused to comply with the officer’s requests and the law. Therefore, this customer was charged with interfering with an officer and preventing access to the meter, both City ordinance charges. Another customer was recording the situation and, after several warnings, that customer also refused to comply with the officer’s requests and the law. After consultation with the DuPage County State’s attorney, the customer was charged with attempted eavesdropping and resisting a peace officer, both state law charges and misdemeanors.
It’s important to remember that our utility has always had the legal authority to select the equipment that fulfills its mission of providing electric service to its customers. Because our customers do not own the electric meters, we as the service provider have the ultimate authority to do so. Both the standard wireless smart meters and non-wireless smart meters meet the needs of the NSGI and our utility moving into the future.
Almost three years ago, I said that the NSGI is the right thing to do for our customers. I absolutely feel the same way today. Nationwide, utilities are moving toward a smart grid system. Today, 36 million smart meters are installed across the country. In our area, ComEd has begun implementation of a long-range plan to install smart meters. Just as technology has revolutionized many other aspects of our life, such as banking or shopping, technology is modernizing our electric grid. This technology is safe and secure.
We know some people have a different opinion and we respect their right to have that opinion. We have provided our customers with a choice of the non-wireless meter alternative.
I remain optimistic about the future of our electric utility and the many benefits of the NSGI that are yet to come. The NSGI is the right thing to do for Naperville. We look forward to the advancements to come in 2013, including an online ePortal for customers to view their energy use. Our City, and its electric grid, are heading into the future, and we embrace and welcome these changes.
Douglas A. Krieger
City Manager, City of Naperville