Mar 042011

If the open forum portion of the Naperville City Council meeting held March 1, 2011 would have been a heavy weight boxing match, it would have been a victory by TKO for the Naperville Citizens who oppose the Smart Grid project.

The only thing that saved the Naperville City Council from utter defeat and embarrassment was the “bell”; the three minute limitation rule which allows a citizen to state his or her case within three minutes. The City Council has a time keeper to “ring the bell” on a citizen’s presentation, thereby shutting him down and giving the Council a chance to regain their composure after getting pummeled with facts and outstanding questions that they can’t seem answer with confidence.

Typically citizens approach the podium with ‘hat in hand’ hoping not to get verbally pounded the Panel of 11 (8 Council members, the Mayor, City Manager, and City Attorney). So often presenters become human piñata’s for the Council, but not this night. All ten presenters made compelling points against continuing the Smart Grid project which is becoming a fiasco.

The most convincing, forceful, persuasive, and gripping presentation of the evening came for Naperville Citizen James Rooney, who in just a matter of a few minutes presented his credentials, facts, and pin-point questions to the Council. You could almost see the Council members shrinking in their seats, beads of sweet appearing on their foreheads, and looking elsewhere to others on the Panel of 11 and staff members for relief. It finally came from the time keeper, but not before Council members were back peddling and deflecting. Given another few minutes, the Naperville City Council would not lost by a TKO, they would have lost been a convincing knock out. Take a look at the interaction between Naperville citizen James Rooney and the Naperville City Council.

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This was followed by outstanding presentations again from Naperville citizens David Bendis and Lisa Rooney.

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The final exclamation point to the Citizens’ domination of the City Council came from Naperville Citizen Kim Bendis. Take note that at the end of her excellent presentation, when spontaneous applause respectfully erupts, Mayor pro tem Grant Wehrli loses his composure when he has to resort to pounding his gavel and nearly shouting that the citizens were utilizing “a method of intimidation” to those who may be “advocates of the Smart Grid”.
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Well excuse us Councilman Wehrli, but of the last 23 citizens to express their opinion about the Smart Grid, not one citizen has spoken in favor of the project. If this was such a phenomenal concept, why would the Naperville City Council have to spend thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars on PR firms especially when it was reported November 23, 2010 that Councilman Fieseler stated “Saying the Smart Grid shouldn’t be in Naperville is like saying the City shouldn’t use the Internet. We’re not going to try to change people’s minds.” This came at the same time that City Manager Doug Krieger said, “The issues are not with technology, because the technology works.” It appears Doug Krieger must have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, because we didn’t know he was an expert on the topic.

That’s part of what make this whole debacle a fiasco. The Citizens of Naperville hear the technology works and the project is proudly moving forward. Then we hear that they are still investigating, and it may not move forward. We are getting different stories from the Naperville City Council not only from different people, but from the same people.

Maybe they have come to realize that their legacy hangs on this decision, and no matter which way they go, they lose. Either they stop the project and look like fools who have wasted taxpayer money, or they move forward with the project and look like industrial strength fools when it unravels down the road.

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’.