By Hank Beckman For The Sun December 30, 2011 6:50PM
With the initial installation of smart meters to some Naperville customers less than a week away, opponents of the $22 million project are seeking legal relief.
“We are seeking a stay of the installation of smart meters in Naperville … until reasonable safeguards are in place,” Tom Glass, a board member of Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, said at a press conference attended by about 50 people at the Naperville Municipal Center Friday afternoon.
The group filed a complaint Friday in federal court seeking a stay of the installations. Its opposition to the project rests primarily with health concerns about radio frequency emissions from the smart meters, but the group also registered strenuous objections over privacy issues, homeowner’s rights, and what they say are violations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act in the process leading up to the beginning of installation.
City officials have said that the Smart Grid project, which would place 57,000 wireless meters on homes and businesses around Naperville, is a needed upgrade to the electrical system. They also have said the smart meters are perfectly safe.
Glass listed several units of government around the nation that have declared a moratorium on Smart Grid projects, conducted investigations or allowed for other options for customers.
Glass also spoke about a recent objection filed to a Naperville Smart Meter Awareness petition to place a non-binding question on the March ballot asking Naperville residents if they want the Smart Grid project halted.
“I think it’s frivolous,” Glass said of the objection, which questioned many of the signatures collected by the group and also the form of the proposed referendum question. “It deserves to be on the ballot.”
The objections will be heard by the Naperville Election Commission at a preliminary hearing at 2 p.m. Jan. 3 in the City Council Chambers at the Municipal Center.
Naperville Smart Meter Awareness attorney Doug Ibendahl said he hoped the city would stop the installation of the wireless meters voluntarily.
“They don’t have to wait for the court,” he said.
Ibendahl said that federal issues involved, including the $11 million matching grant from the U.S Department of Energy for the program, made it necessary to file the complaint in the U.S. District Court of North District of Illinois Eastern Division.
Ibendahl wouldn’t commit to what course of action the group would take if the complaint was rejected or the objection to the petition was upheld.
“We have other legal avenues available,” he said, while stressing that a temporary restraining order was “really rare.”
City Councilman Steve Chirico attended the Friday press conference and said that the city has tried to answer all questions about the initiative.
Shortly before the press conference, Naperville Smart Meter Awareness delivered a copy of its complaint to city staff, which responded with a press release of its own standing behind the Smart Grid initiative.
City Attorney Margo Ely stated that the city is “confident that the case will ultimately be dismissed … the lawsuit raises no new issues from the opposition. It simply has no merit.”
Community Relations Manager Nadja Lalvani made clear her disagreement with the notion that the city violated Open Meetings Act guidelines, saying the city has been very active getting the word out about the program.
“Our project has gained national recognition for ground-breaking advancements in customer engagement, including the Smart Grid Customer Bill of Rights, the Smart Grid Ambassador Program and our Customer Privacy and Advocacy Handbook, all of which can be found on the city’s website,” she said in the city’s press release. “Additionally, we are hosting a series of 14 community open houses throughout meter deployment to answer questions from customers.”
She believes most residents in Naperville are behind Smart Grid.
“The silent majority is extremely supportive of the Smart Grid project,” she said.