Resident questions smart meter plan for Darien
Executives from Commonwealth Edison did their best Monday to answer questions and allay fears over the utility’s installation of “smart” electric meters at Darien homes and businesses in mid-2016.
As a replacement for existing analog meters, smart meters measure power usage in 30-minute intervals and transmit that data to the utility as often as six times a day, said Michael McMahon, ComEd’s vice president of smart grid technology. Their installation is part of a $2.6 billion program approved by the Illinois General Assembly in 2011, which allows ComEd to recover the cost from its overall rate base, McMahon said.
But about a dozen people attended the City Council meeting opposed to the smart meters, saying they were an unwanted intrusion on personal privacy.
“This is a forcible implementation that goes against our Fourth Amendment rights,” said Darien resident Judith La Rose, suggesting it was part of an international effort to reduce consumption at the expense of developed nations. “There is no empirical evidence to show that there is any benefit to this invasion of our privacy and security.”
About 1.8 million smart meters have already been installed in ComEd’s service territory, which stretches across the entire Chicago metro area and most of Northern Illinois, McMahon said. About 50 million smart meters are in place nationwide. The effort to install smart meters in Darien will begin in July 2016 and should be completed by October, he said.
“We want to educate as many people as possible,” McMahon said.
The installation process takes about 10 minutes on average, he said, and can usually be completed with no interruption in electric service. The new meters contain a small radio transmitter that communicates with the utility’s network six times a day, for a maximum transmission time of three to five minutes each day.
McMahon said the three major reasons people object to the program are data security, data privacy and perceived health effects.
“We are using the latest cryptographic techniques, and while we are not hack proof, we are constantly updating our security measures,” he said. “Even if someone was able to hack into a smart meter, all they would get is a serial number and kilowatt hour usage.”
Darien Mayor Kathleen Weaver advised La Rose that the city was powerless to stop or modify the smart meter effort in any way.
“I am sure you are up to the task of fighting this issue,” Weaver told La Rose.
McMahon said the meters belong to ComEd,
“All we are trying to do is to upgrade a technology that has been around for 50 years to bring us a little closer to the rest of the world,” he said.
McMahon said only about 1,700 customers have refused to have meters installed to date, he said, under a provision in the 2011 law that allows consumers to delay installation one year beyond full deployment. At the current rate, full deployment will occur in 2019. Customers who demand to keep their analog meters will be charged an additional $21.53 each month to offset the cost of having their meters read in person by a ComEd employee, McMahon said.
Harry Gamble is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.