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City "exercise its right" to remove those looking to stand in the way of "progress"

In an incident that's sure to draw national attention, two women were dragged from their own backyards and arrested by police in Naperville, Illinois (a town located approximately 30 minutes west of Chicago) after they tried to block installation of the city's new smart meters.

President Obama has been pushing for a "smart grid" for some time, with more high-tech meters that can access more detailed information on power usage.  Proponents argue the high-tech meters cut down on waste and mistakes.  Critics cite a variety of concerns ranging from national security to health.

The two arrested women -- Jennifer Stahl and Malia "Kim" Bendis -- were leaders of an anti-smart meter group dubbed "Naperville Smart Meter Awareness".  The group's website links to a critical article on the project which points out its $23.6M USD cost, only $11M USD of which came from a federal grant.

Even Mark Curran the Naperville director of electrical utilities admits that the meter rollout has taken "longer than we anticipated", after being fraught with technical delays.

smart meter arrests
Arrest photos of Jennifer Stahl (left) and Malia Bendis (right) [Image Source: Naperville PD]

Aside from finances, though, there appears to be a relatively strong luddite component of the group's campaign to block the meters.  The group links to a number of speculative websites that compile information on the supposed "health risks" of smart meters.  The commentary on one site ( echoes the medically unfounded claims that similar campaigns have leveled against cell phone towers or Wi-Fi networks.  Comments the site:

This is of great concern because the exposure to microwave and radiowave radiation from these meters is involuntary and continuous. The transmitting meters may not even comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) "safety" standards ... However, those standards were initially designed to protect an average male from tissue heating (cooking) during a brief exposure. These standards were not designed to protect a diverse population from the non-thermal effects of continuous exposure to microwave and radiowave radiation. Therefore, these "safety" standards were not designed to protect the public from health problems under the circumstances which the meters are being used.

To date, there has been no comprehensive peer-reviewed work supporting the notion that Wi-Fi or cell phone signals cause cancer or other health effects, but that hasn't stopped critics from suggesting that undiscovered risks may indeed exist.

Smart Meter protesters
Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Board of Directors (L-R): Jennifer Stahl (Secretary), Kim Bendis (President), and Board Members Amanda Rykov, Lisa Rooney, Tom Glass
[Image Source: Naperville Smart Meter Awareness]

Despite the shaky science, one must wonder whether the city's strong-arm tactics are justified for citizens who don't want the meters.  Ms. Stahl's arrest came at 4:30 when police invaded her backyard with the installation crew after cutting the bicycle lock she used on her fence gate.  When police found Ms. Stahl standing in front of her old-fashioned "dumb" meter refusing to move, they arrested her and charged her with interfering with a police officer and preventing access to customer premises.

Ms. Bendis's arrest proceeded similarly.  She was charged with attempted eavesdropping and resisting a peace officer.

A defiant Ms. Stahl told reporters, "It was forced on my house today.  It was really a violation. I violated something, but I’ve been violated too so I guess we’re now in a society of violating one another.  I have not done the work of attempting to educate the community and advocating for the right of anybody in Naperville to refuse the smart meter just to stand off to the side."

Ms. Bendis declined to comment to reporters, citing advice from her lawyer.

Both women were released within hours.  City Manager Doug Krieger defends the arrests, commenting, "The previous installation attempts were met with some resistance and we wanted to ensure our employees’ safety.  The city has always had and maintains the right to access our equipment, and today we were simply exercising that right."

Smart Meter
The Elster Rex2 smart meter (left) is being installed in homes, supported by wireless stations attached to poles and other infrastructure (right).
[Image Source: Naperville Smart Meter Awareness/Elster]

While the cost is one reasonable criticism against smart meter projects, another more ground criticism is security.  Prominent sources, including defense contractor Lockheed Martin Comp. (LMT), have suggested that Chinese or other sophisticated rivals of the U.S. could "hack into" smart meter networks and use attacks to cripple or otherwise interfere with the U.S. power grid.  If this premise holds true it would represent a tremendous new national security risk.

Another interesting criticism comes from security researchers [PDF], who report that smart meter data, if carefully analyzed, could reveal intimate details of one's life.  For example, a house hooked up to smart water and electric meters could allow a third party to track when people shower, whether a home alarm is on, and how often people use their televisions.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald [Naperville]

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By Indianapolis on 1/24/2013 4:24:51 PM , Rating: 2
What is the purpose of these "smart" meters? Are these the meters that can be remotely monitored and adjusted?

I'm a first responder, and last summer during a heatwave I responded to the residence of an elderly couple, one of whom was having significant trouble breathing because the inside of their house was so warm.

They had their A/C on full-blast, but they said they had some kind of new meter from the power company that automatically regulated their power usage somehow and was causing them to not get enough A/C.

In this case, the couple said they had volunteered to have the new meter installed because they got a discount on their power. But the wife said they had already called the power company to have it removed ASAP.

If the smart meters referenced in this article have a similar functionality, and can be used to indiscriminately ration power, then I can certainly understand why citizens might be concerned.

By Brandon Hill on 1/24/2013 4:48:09 PM , Rating: 2
Progress Energy sends me a pamphlet every quarter for their EnergyWise program telling me that I will get a $25 credit a year on my bill if I allow them to install a piece of equipment on my heatpump that will cut it off at random times during the day.

$25??! Puhlease. It goes in the trash every time.

By Indianapolis on 1/24/2013 5:02:05 PM , Rating: 2
Sounds like a great idea, until you realize that this kind of top-down, faceless and heartless energy rationing program will result in a reduced quality of life, and that for somebody in delicate health it may even kill them. It was well over 80 degrees in that house I spoke about above, and with the humidity it was a really bad situation for the residents.

Of course, none of these shenanigans would be necessary if the politicians would just allow us to use the abundant energy resources we have available. But that would hurt all of the people getting rich off global warming, "green" energy, and now these "smart" meters.

By Ammohunt on 1/24/2013 5:20:08 PM , Rating: 2
The only people i see getting rich are the "Green Energy" company executives cutting and running with our tax money given to them by the Obama Administration. There is no market for "Green Energy" without massive government subsidies.

By George Karadimas on 1/25/2013 7:13:40 PM , Rating: 2
BGE send me Pamphlets every quarter for thei PEAK REWARDS program telling me that I will get $25 Credit a year on my bill if I allow them to shut off my HOT water Heater 100% whenever they feel like it!

I confronted a BGE executive at a Smart Meter BGE open house meeting explaining the downside, and he responded it is only VOLUNTARY!

I said this year yes! But what happens when you do not get enough suckers to Volunteer? He says what!
Next Year you will go complaining to the Public Service Commission, that suckers are NOT signing up and the PSC will make it MANDATORY!

By geddarkstorm on 1/24/2013 7:31:57 PM , Rating: 2
That is a serious tragedy to hear, but thank you for your service as a first responder.

Hopefully such cases will remain a rarity, but the principle of the matter stands. Our private rights are indeed diminishing these days, for no gain (at least for us).

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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