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Privacy, fire hazards and cost are among the concerns of La Grange Park, Illinois, residents considering the installation of smart meters from ComEd.

The meters — digital devices to collect and transmit usage data — are to be installed beginning Oct. 20.

Michael McMahan, vice president of ComEd's Advanced Metering Infrastructure Implementation, told about 50 residents Sept. 10 the company installed 130,000 meters in a 2009 pilot program in communities bordering the Maywood service hub. It is part of ComEd’s $2.6 billion effort to modernize the existing power grid.

The meters allow customers to monitor their hourly usage online with protected passwords. The system also can suggest ways to avoid higher rates during peak hours and will eliminate bills based on estimated use.

McMahan said it is not in the best interest of residents to decline smart meters, but those with such requests will be put on a delay list for now.

“It’s an open question for now,” he said. “Charges may apply in the future.”

A representative of the Citizens Utility Board, a consumer advocacy group, said the organization seeks to verify any such charge reflects actual costs and would not be punitive.

Installation of the smart meters will eliminate the need for meter readers, and the cost savings will be passed on to consumers, McMahan said. The savings likely won’t be realized until 2015 and depends largely on full participation, so the contiguous meters can communicate with one another for the improved power grid, he said.

John Schoen, senior communications specialist with ComEd, said each smart meter costs about $100.

The company’s website said each customer will pay an average of $3 per month for the next decade to offset the company’s $2.6 billion investment in infrastructure. But that fee can be eliminated by taking advantage of online energy management tips and taking part in optional pricing programs to avoid peak hourly costs, according to the website.

Residents also asked about reports of fires caused by smart meters.

“We know of no case that a smart meter has caused the fire,” McMahan said. “The issue is with the socket, which is usually about the same age as the home.”

In the pilot program of installing 130,000 meters, there were three cases of overheating caused by the socket, which resulted in smoke damage. Installers have been given additional training to spot defective sockets. An electrician is notified for the repair at no cost to the homeowner, he said.

McMahan said radio waves emitted by the meters pose no danger, do not disrupt the operation of other devices in the home and are transmitted for only about five minutes four times a day. Each meter is monitored at 5:30 a.m. daily for overheating.

“Your cell phone is 125 times more powerful than a smart meter,” he said concerning radio wave output.

McMahan also stressed ComEd doesn’t collect personalized data from the smart meters about such thing as when a person runs his dishwasher. Any data won’t be sold to a third party and is strictly confidential, he said.

“We employ the best cyber security system,” he said. “Even if somebody could hack in, the only thing they’d get is the serial number and the kilowatt hours. There is no personal information.”

While looking at displays of smart meters and other equipment, resident Lou Dejesus said he appreciated the informative presentation. He acknowledged some residents’ concerns about privacy, but doesn’t see that as a deal breaker.

“I will sign up. I’m not afraid of technology,” he said. “It will be a good thing. I am interested in seeing my power usage throughout the day.”
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