Print 112 comment(s) - last by skildner.. on Jan 30 at 1:39 PM

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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RE: Waste of money
By 91TTZ on 1/24/2013 5:42:27 PM , Rating: 4
By them refusing the smart meter that would break the contract. Remember that the contract is customer initiated. Customers can cancel at any time.

If Comcast tells me that I need to upgrade my cable box to a new model, I can refuse. They will then cut my cable service. They won't have the police kick in my door and arrest me, though.

RE: Waste of money
By geddarkstorm on 1/24/2013 7:26:56 PM , Rating: 4
Not yet, anyways. I mean, we are talking about Comcast here ;).

RE: Waste of money
By rs2 on 1/24/2013 9:35:31 PM , Rating: 1
Wow. Glad you're not a lawyer.

Yes, customers can cancel at any time (subject to any provisions that may exist in the contract such as paying any unpaid balance; the fact that one party initiates a contract doesn't mean that they automatically get to terminate the contract at any time for any reason) provided that they give adequate notice of their intention to cancel.

However, doing something that would technically breach the contract doesn't mean that the contract automatically and immediately terminates. Whether or not the contract terminates in the event of a breach is generally at the discretion of the party who has *not* breached the contract.

For instance, if you're late on a payment you have breached the contract. The electric company may choose to immediately terminate your contract as a result, or they may decide that it makes more sense to send you a warning letter and continue providing (and billing for) services. Since you breached the contract by not paying, and since you did so without giving notice of your intention to end the contract, the electric company gets to decide whether or not they want to end the contract or allow it to continue.

The same applies to these crazy ladies and their meters. Their actions may have breached the contract, but they do not give notice or establish intent to end the contract. That leaves it up to the electric company to decide whether to cut the nutjobs off completely or require that the contract terms be enforced.

RE: Waste of money
By 91TTZ on 1/25/2013 10:43:53 AM , Rating: 3
Yes, customers can cancel at any time (subject to any provisions that may exist in the contract such as paying any unpaid balance; the fact that one party initiates a contract doesn't mean that they automatically get to terminate the contract at any time for any reason) provided that they give adequate notice of their intention to cancel.

I'm glad you're not in any position to make law.

While you can be penalized if you break a contract, the other side doesn't get a blank check as to what that penalty might be. If you agreed to have me install siding on your house and then you sign the contract and then bail because you had second thoughts you broke a contract. But I don't get a blank check as to my recourse. I can probably take you to small claims court and win some money. But I can't have you arrested while I install that siding.

That's what happened in this case. They broke a contract and the electric company can probably sue for some money, but having them arrested crossed a line. They weren't interfering with a larger-scale utility line like an underground power line that serviced their neighborhood, they were only preventing a meter from being installed on their own house.

RE: Waste of money
By blue_urban_sky on 1/25/2013 3:30:03 AM , Rating: 2
I work for BT in the UK and we have all sorts of rights which the consumer has no say about as we have a contract with the government.

When running an infrastructure that has to serve everyone fairly the rights of the individual suffer and this is correct. I would guess even if the people stopped the service the utility Co. would still have rights to access and change their meter. the only option would be to ask and pay for the infrastructure to be removed from your property.

I believe that in the USA the telco's are not considered infrastructure? so have no rights beyond being a service so are very different in power to the electric companies.

RE: Waste of money
By 91TTZ on 1/25/2013 10:35:01 AM , Rating: 2
I believe that in the USA the telco's are not considered infrastructure? so have no rights beyond being a service so are very different in power to the electric companies.

It depends. If it's a major thing like a power line or fiber optic cable running under your property it's considered a utility. But if it's just your personal cable line that's different.

I couldn't tell Verizon that they can't run a fiber optic backbone under my yard because the municipality would step in and say that I can't impede the installation of a public utility. But if Verizon tried to run a cable to my house to make it more likely that I'll buy FIOS then I can tell them to stop.

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes

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