Feb 182011

The Tuesday February 15th City Council meeting had some interesting moments including Councilman Boyajian thinking it was Roll Call, when in fact his name was called for a vote. Another Boyajian moment came when he did a quick beat down on a city staff member by saying, “You really screwed up”. Even better than that was when Councilman Furstenau said he drove by Scott Huber’s tent on Ogden and mentioned “It looks like a pretty big house to me.” However the best one-liner of the night was from Grant Wehrli when he stated, “I’ve heard nothing but silence from the Cemetery people”.

One topic on the agenda was whether or not to authorize the City Manager to recruit externally and fill a vacancy for an equipment operator. Councilman Furstenau voted ‘no’ and stated, “What we can do with 45 people we can do with 44”. Wouldn’t that same logic work with Council members? What we can do with 8 we can do with 7.

The main event of the evening focused on the Smart Grid bill of rights, which deals with the rights of Naperville citizens regarding information and options concerning the new system. A number of speakers each presented their 3 minutes worth of concerns to the Council. Watching the Council during this time you couldn’t help but to think they have already made up their minds and this combined 30 to 45 minutes of presentation was an exercise in futility. Some on the Council looked bored, others had little if any eye contact with the speakers, and a few looked restless. To the credit of the citizen-presenters, they made some outstanding points including middle school principal Dave Bendis and citizen Lisa Rooney.
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So why exactly, with all this controversy about Smart Grid, does the City Council want to move this project forward. Here is what the City has on their website regarding the Smart Grid:

“The city had planned on fully implementing smart grid technology over the next ten to fifteen years with a projected cost of more than $22 million. The first installment of this project had originally been budgeted through the five-year Capital Improvement Plan at $8.4 million for the initial phase of the project.

Naperville was the only municipality in the State of Illinois selected for a Smart Grid Investment Grant by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and was selected from more than 500 applicants. Since the DOE awarded the city an $11 million matching grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which requires the entire smart grid to be installed and completed within three years…”

So originally the City had planned to fully implement this grid in “10 to 15 years”, but now they are required by Federal guidelines to complete this within THREE years. What’s the rush? Well as you can see the Federal government is funding half the project ($11 million) with Naperville matching that amount; that’s the rush. So the City is willing to rush the job in order to spend less for a service that they don’t even know if it will work, for a total dollar amount that they don’t know for sure, and with results that they hope will happen. Fellow citizens, if this is the legacy that this City Council is willing to ‘hang their reputation on’ then they are living on thin ice and bringing the rest of us along for an adventure we don’t want or need. We don’t need to be the ‘first kid on the block with a new untested pogo stick’ just because our parents can buy it at half-price.

Take a look at this excerpt from an August 16, 2010 article by Peter Asmus titled “How to Avoid Consumer Revolt on Smart Grid Technology”,

“In the San Francisco Bay Area, several communities – the most recent being Fairfax in Marin County – have successfully stopped Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) from installing smart meters pending further evaluations about accuracy, security and public health.

Some market participants estimated that roll-outs of “virtual power plants” based on demand response (DR) programs could likely be delayed by one year until these consumer resistance issues are worked out.”

When we have City Manager Doug Krieger making a bold statement by saying he ‘guarantees it is not a health concern” and that health concerns for Naperville Citizens are trumped by ‘cost prohibitive’ options, then we do have reason for more than concern. And  when we have a Councilman (Wehrli) stating “Well they must be safe because the Federal Government says they are.”,  then we have a major concern.  When we have a City Council that votes in essence for the ‘Board or Directors for the Naperville Electric Utility’  because they are one-in-the-same, then we have a classic conflict of interest, with the interest of our citizens health concerns being low priority by our City Council.

I am reminded of the Universal Epitaph, which can be used on any headstone, “At the time, I thought it was a good idea.”.  Well the City Council thinks this is a good idea, and it might be, but not at this time.

Part of the City Mission Statement for the Smart Grid Initiative states, “empowers customers to control energy use”, isn’t this something we already have; it’s called an “on and off” switch’.