Citizen reaction to ComEd’s public forum held in Wheaton
If Thomas Edison came back to life and examined our electricity grid system, he wouldn’t see much of a difference now than how it looked when it was first put into place, more than one hundred years ago. That is why you’ll be hearing the buzz words “Smart Grid” more and more these days. Essentially, a Smart Grid is an improved, digitally enabled, electrical grid that has the ability to gather and distribute information about suppliers and consumers electrical demand on the grid system. In theory, this system improves efficiency, and reliability of electricity services.
Last night on April 4th, ComEd held an open house in Wheaton City Hall discussing their infrastructure improvement strategy and future development plans of a Smart Grid for Wheaton. The room was full of about forty people, mostly middle to upper age Wheaton residents. The discussion began by outlining the new agenda Illinois approved this past October, the “Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act,” which allocated $2.6 billion to ComEd with the purpose of modernizing and transforming Illinois’ electric grid. Half of this money will go toward infrastructure improvements, with the other half towards digital technology.
Specific target locations mentioned during the talk included the areas around West, Chase and Roosevelt Road, Hawthorne and Lewis, and West and Front Street for structural improvements in Wheaton. For example, if an outage occurs in a specific area, restoring electricity depends on customers calling ComEd and having someone come fix the fuse. By installing ‘trip savers,’ which act as mini-circuit breakers, in these problem areas would reduce maintenance times. In addition, ComEd will be installing devices to support the primary electrical distribution system, built with the mechanical strength to survive severe storms.
The event became tense as multiple Wheaton residents began voicing disdain for the way ComEd handled outages in the past as well as fear of the Smart Meter system, which is integral to the use of a Smart Grid.
To address concerns about power outages, ComEd representatives countered that the company has plans to install distribution automation devices to detect issues on the grid and automatically re-route power to minimize customer outages, and upgrade ten electrical substations that will improve automated monitoring of grid performance.
The overall concern of Smart Meters was health related, with local residents citing studies done by The World Health Organization on electromagnetic fields and the American Academy of Environmental Medicine that opposed Smart Meter technology in California. While the WHO does not specifically state that Smart Meter technology is harmful, studies such as the one done by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, believe the emitted radio frequencies to be environmentally hazardous and a suspected carcinogen.
Smart Meters, like cell phones, and microwaves emit a ‘non-ionizing’ type of radiation. In contrast, ‘Ionizing’ radiation, such as radon in our soil, has been deemed a known carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the US National Toxicology Program (NTP), and is deemed as a known carcinogen by the American Cancer Society.
The public meeting was not meant to be a referendum, so despite concerns ComEd plans to install over four million advanced meters in homes and businesses in the coming years. The greatest advantages of these meters will be the ability to enhance outage identification and restoration, said the ComEd representatives. Other benefits include improved meter reading and billing efficiencies, reduced electricity theft, speedier disconnection and reconnection of electric service, and more choice and control over when to use electricity.
Overall, the five ComEd presenters seemed genuinely interested in improving the system and handled all questions politely and patiently. It is clear that while the implementation of a Smart Grid system in Illinois would do wonders to improve our electrical system, much more education and communication with the public needs to be done.