Rationale for “Up-Charge” for Customers Choosing the NWMA

In the City of Naperville, Illinois, a provision was made for residents to be able to request installation of a digital smart meter that does not emit radiofrequency radiation.  Customers selecting this option must pay $68.35 for installation and a $24.75 monthly fee.  As I have previously explained to the City:  “The fee unreasonably limits, deters, and discourages the selection of an ‘opt-out’ provision for wireless smart meters for consumers who have health and safety concerns, and where exposure from RF radiation emissions emanates, in part, from a device installed on one’s own property without consent.”

There is no option in the City of Naperville to retain an analog meter.  The non-wireless meter alternative (NWMA), as it is called, still collects energy-related data at 15 minute increments.  The information is stored on a memory chip.  Once a month, a technician comes out to the residence and transfers the information to a laptop computer.  Therefore, the NWMA still exposes the customer to unnecessary privacy and data security risks since the amount of data collected is far in excess of what is required to generate a monthly bill.

The City has made a number of inconsistent statements to justify the fees charged to customers requesting installation of the non-wireless meter alternative (NWMA).  This webpage reveals some of these inconsistent statements and the convoluted logic employed by the City in making what amounts to an indefensible position.

On February 15, 2011, Robert Fieseler made the following comments at a City Council meeting:  “Common ground; we should probably not expose ourselves to any more radiofrequency transmissions than we need to, than we are already doing.  OK?  That would be ideal, not to have any more. … If you are going to have an up-charge of some sort, … will I accept the risk or not?  I would probably say, yea, I’ll accept more.  But I don’t want that to dictate how other people should feel, at all. …  For their peace of mind.  …  If the whole idea of having a meter on the other side of the wall is going to keep somebody up at night … they should the ability to have a work-around if we can do it for them.”

“Peace of Mind” Audio for Robert Fieseler, February 15, 2011:

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Commentary on the Above:

(1)  Why would you have an “up-charge” for people to expose themselves to more risk, when it is agreed we should not expose ourselves to more risk than we already have from radiofrequency transmissions?  One would expect the logic to be reversed.  If anything, hypothetically, customers could be offered a modest discount to agree to a wireless smart meter installation as an incentive to expose themselves to additional risk.  From a risk perspective, there is no basis to assess an “up-charge” or penalty fee for those not wanting to accept additional risk.

(2)  The above statements by Mr. Fieseler on RF transmission should also be applicable for privacy and data security risks.  Why shouldn’t people have a work-around to avoid those risks as well?

On October 4, 2011, on the subject of fees, City Legal mentions state statute and constitutional concerns dealing with uniformity of fees and equal protection.  There are also rate payer concerns.

First Audio for City Legal, October 4, 2011:

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One Naperville City Council member, Robert Fieseler, at a City Council meeting on October 4, 2011, made the following statement:

“Let’s talk about … what we would offer to people who don’t want the wireless meter.  … Now, if it were possible, I would be willing to waive the initial and monthly fees for people requesting those manually read … non-wireless meters.  But as you just heard, we’ve got legal advice that says that would be contrary to state law to waive those fees, and spread them across the [rate payer] base, and Illinois just doesn’t let utilities do that.”

“If It Were Possible” Audio for Robert Fieseler, October 4, 2011:

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Then there is further legal discussion on October 4, 2011, indicating there is not a state law that bans giving out meters for free.  The legal analysis is more about equity and ratepayer claims.  If you have a certain portion of the ratepayers being subsidized by other ratepayers, it raises an issue.  The Public Utilities Act is very explicit about how you can charge your customers.  Waiving costs that are directly attributed to particular users, it exposes the City to potential claims and liabilities.

Second Audio for City Legal, October 4, 2011:

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The minutes for the Naperville City Council meeting for October 4, 2011, contains the following paragraph:  [The City Attorney] “explained that the Public Utilities Act is very clear on how rate payers can be charged and that if Council waives the costs that are directly attributable to particular users it exposes the city to potential claims and liability.”

I have attempted to research this need for fees further.  In proposing a different fee structure to one City Council member, I received the following e-mail response on February 23, 2012:

“We don’t want this to be a penalty, but by law utilities must not subsidize any customers at the expense of the others, so we are required to charge what we estimate our cost to be.”

When I asked for the specific law or statute cited, I was provided with the following response on February 27, 2012, from the same City Council member as quoted above:

“I check[ed] on the law and I was incorrect in that statement.  The legal advice we were given was based on case law as opposed to legislation.  I am told by our city legal that there are several cases that support this position.”

So now the response from a City Council member indicates that it is a matter of “case law” that justifies the fee for the NWMA.

Earlier, the City Attorney mentioned that the Illinois Public Utilities Act is quite clear on how you charge your customers.

However, by my reading of the Illinois Public Utilities Act, and pursuant to 220 ILCS 5/3-105, the definition of “public utility” excludes utilities owned and operated by a municipal corporation.  Therefore, because of this and the fact that the City of Naperville’s Department of Public Utilities – Electric is a non-profit organization, I question why the City Attorney would reference the Public Utilities Act as a basis for determining “how rate payers can be charged.”

For example, the Naperville Smart Grid Initiative Question/Response Inventory, dated, March 25, 2013, states:  “Naperville’s not-for-profit electric utility is owned by the city and all savings realized by the utility are passed through to customers.”  In effect, there is no such thing as a “rate payer” in City of Naperville in the traditional sense.

So, in summary, since there are increased risks involved with being part of the Smart Grid, why would customers be subject to an “up-charge” for opting out?  And why shouldn’t they be able to opt-out not only for the RF issues but for privacy and data security issues as well?

The City’s reasons for the need for the “up-charge” are inconsistent and not supported by the facts.  The City is a non-for-profit organization and outside the jurisdiction of the Illinois Public Utilities Act.  Plus, the logic is reversed from what would be common sense.

If anything, the City could offer a modest discount to customers to make a change from their current level of analog meter service.  Such a discount would provide an incentive to customers to provide consent to incur the additional health, privacy, and data security risks involved with participation in an electrical grid system that employs digital smart meter technology.  Of course, for this logic to make sense to the City, it would need to finally acknowledge these risks and inform the public about them.

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