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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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Strange Confluence of laws
By NaperJ on 1/24/2013 5:28:09 PM , Rating: 3
I live in Naperville, and the last few people who have been fighting the meter installation are having their meters installed. People have a choice of the wireless meter, or a meter which needs to be read in person at the cost of > $25 per month. Naperville electricity is provided by a municipal electric company, not a private company, for what it's worth.

One of the women was arrested for filming the police officer after he told her she did not have permission to do so. There is a silly Illinois law which does not allow audio to be recorded without the permission of all parties. While several convictions have been thrown out, since the Illinois Supreme court has not declared the law constitutional, police continue to arrest people filming them with audio, even if the prosecutor will drop the charges.

The other woman was arrested for preventing access to the electric meter, by putting a bicycle lock on a 3 foot fence. The meter installers just stepped over the fence, but apparently by refusing to unlock it denied access, which is apparently against the law in Naperville.

While I disagree with their position on the smart meters, I saw no reason that they needed to be arrested, unless they started doing something strange after they stopped filming. Other than being annoying by repeatedly saying that neither the installers or the police had permission to be on the property, they didn't seem to be causing much of a problem, and the officer could have used his discretion about arresting them. Perhaps he was annoyed about having to follow the meter installers around and having to stand outside in the cold, or was just having a bad day.

While the meters in Naperville do have a capability for turning off the entire service, presumably for lack of payment, they do not have the direct capability of disabling any other appliance. There may be an option to have a discount by allowing the installation of an air-conditioner control, but it's not part of the smart meter roll-out.

One other strange thing which happened was that the Naperville council just this week approved paying for more manual meter reading, as the automated system is apparently not ready on time. They also approved paying for a large cost overrun on the installation program. At this point, I have to thank the other US taxpayers, as they subsidized half of this smart meter installation as part of the 2009 stimulus package, so I don't have to pay for all of it in my electric bill.

In addition to elimination of electric meter reading, the program is supposed to reduce costs by identifying where additional power is not required, through tuning microgrid power supply. Naperville is also likely to be a big home of electric cars, so car charging can be encouraged to be deferred to non-peak rates, and avoid large demand charges for peak demand by the city. But, the city water department still has to read the water meters through an interface right next to the electric meters, so there isn't that much of a savings on meter readers.

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