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Council OKs Execution Of Smart Meters Contract

on March 10, 2019 - 6:37am
Department Of Public Utilities Manager Tim Glasco
Los Alamos Daily Post
In a 6-0 vote, Los Alamos County Council authorized Utilities Manager Tim Glasco to execute a contract for the purchase and installation of advanced metering infrastructure equipment, which includes smart meters during its regular meeting Tuesday night.
Councilor David Izraelevitz was absent at the meeting.
Council had approved the contract with Ferguson Incorporated for Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) during its Dec. 18 meeting, but requested the Board of Public Utilities provide an “opt out” policy for customers before the contract was executed.
Glasco said that according to the DPU rule, customers may decide not to participate in the program and they will not be charged any additional fees or penalties. All they need to do is fill out a form, he said. If the customer moves somewhere else in town, they will need to re-fill out the form for the new address, he added.
He explained that all DPU customers will get a new meter but those who decide to opt out will simply not have the software in the meter turned on. The meter information will continue to be manually read each month, Glasco said.
Notification about the new smart meters will be provided through billing stuffers, Glasco said, adding that information will be posted at the Customer Care Center in the Municipal Building and at the libraries.
Deputy Utilities Manager Robert Westervelt
Councilor Antonio Maggiore suggested leaving a door tag at each residence with information about the smart meter as well as how to opt out of the program once it is installed. Deputy Utilities Manager Robert Westervelt said it is part of the plan to send out a deployment team to all the neighborhoods, but they would add door tags to the notification process.
According to a DPU press release, AMI is a method of using communication technology to read meters remotely without having to physically access the meters on customers’ properties. AMI infrastructure includes electric smart meters, and communication modules that attach to the natural gas and water meters.
In a previous interview with the Los Alamos Daily Post, Westervelt said there are many benefits to the new meters, both economic and operational. The biggest economic benefit, he said, is that meter reader positions would be reduced. Westervelt said staff would not be laid off but would be used to backfill other positions as they open up within the department.
Additionally, Westervelt told the Post that the new meters would allow DPU to be alerted right away to any problems or concerns that appear. For instance, the new system can quickly detect leaks or abnormal consumption. With the existing system, Westervelt said, meter readers spot leaks when they make their rounds once a month or customers notice a huge spike on their bill. Another advantage, Westervelt said, is that the new smart meters will help customers to fully utilize DPU’s smart utility app.
Customers also can realize savings by monitoring and managing their consumption in real-time. Westervelt said that in the future if time-of-use rates are adopted, customers can curtail electric consumption during peak times when rates are higher and shift electric loads to times of the day when rates are less expensive.  
Council Vice Chair Pete Sheehey asked if concerns the public raised about the smart meters had been addressed. He touched on the incident in which one of the smart meters installed during a past pilot project caught on fire. Sheehey also wondered about usage recorded by the new meters versus the older meters.  
Regarding the pilot project, which took place on Barranca Mesa, Glasco said it was determined the meter wasn’t faulty and did not catch on fire; he said the fire was caused by bad wiring going into the meter’s base.
As far as accuracy readings, Glasco said the new meters will be more accurate and as a result, there could be a jump in utility bills; however, he said the software should flag any “out-of-limit” readings indicating possible improper programming of the meter.
Councilor Katrina Schmidt asked what the public’s response was to the project. She mentioned in the past it was stated that up to 25 percent of residents could opt out and it would still be a viable project but if it goes above 25 percent, DPU would need to look at it again.
Glasco said if more than 25 percent of DPU customers opt out, then DPU will need to retain more meter readers and therefore the expected 5-7-year payback on the project would be extended.
The council voiced support for the project.
Maggiore said while he would approve the contract, “I do have reservations and I feel optically that with the state of some of our infrastructure that spending $6 million on ... for lack of a better word ... gadgets (and) while I understand they will pay for themselves over time, I question the timing of this … optically, I don’t like the timing of it.”
Councilor Randall Ryti supported the contract, saying, “I support this change at this time … I think there’s more cost to waiting at this point than proceeding with this contract so I think it is better to go ahead and make this investment and it will pay for itself over time and I guess we’ll just see with the opt out fraction how long that will take. But I am hoping people will recognize the benefits and that’s one reason why I was asking about the tiered rates. I think that’s something that could benefit customers ... if there was a way to actually give them a lower rate I would like to be able to do that and they can only do that if they opt into this metering system and we have that structure in place.”
Councilor James Robinson thanked DPU for listening to the public and creating the opt out policy.