Addleton garners support to invest in “smart” meters

After several months of consideration and discussion, the Cairo city council voted 4-1 Monday night to authorize the city manager to solicit bids for new “smart” meters for the city’s water distribution system.
By moving forward with the new, automated water meters the council is also committing to shifting to “smart” meters for both electric and gas.
Only Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas, chairman of the council finance committee, voted in opposition to the city manager’s recommendation.
On Tuesday, Douglas said he opposed the recommendation because, in his opinion, the city cannot afford the new meters.
Addleton is proposing to pay for the retrofitting and replacement of approximately 4,200 water meters and installation of the infrastructure to operate the automated system with a $1,189,645 loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. Of that total, GEFA is forgiving $475,858 of the principal leaving $713,787 to be financed at half of one percent for 10 years.
The city first began considering a shift to “smart” meters in 2009. The city of Moultrie implemented the new technology in 2010.
With the new “smart” meters, the city can read meters remotely and eliminate the need for three meter readers. The city will also be able to shut off and restore service remotely. Not all meters will have that capability, but the city will install those meters at locations that are routinely cut off for nonpayment.
In making his final push for the new meters, Addleton presented a business plan Monday night that indicates the city will realize savings of $80,000 annually from the elimination of two meter reader positions and associated benefits. He also projected a savings of $120,000 annually due to the elimination of an estimated 4,000 manual cutoffs and restorations per year.
A reduction of one position in the billing department is also projected at a savings of $40,000 annually.
The city manager told councilmen that additional revenue will be realized by improvements in meter accuracy. Addleton said he projects an additional $90,000 in electric sales, $6,000 in water and $13,000 in sewer annually.
All told, Addleton projected savings of $360,000 annually, which means the system will pay for itself in less than five years.
The city manager said he plans on hiring a contractor to install the new water meters, and allowing city forces to install the electric and gas meters.
Addleton said he anticipates awarding a bid for the water meters in February and issuing a notice to proceed by March. The water, gas and electric meters are expected to be completely installed by the end of 2017.
The cost of the new electric meters is estimated at $500,000 and $300,000 for the new gas meters.
Energy Services director Rod Prince explained to the council his reasoning for recommending the city use city forces to install the gas and electric meters.
Prince said he wanted trained personnel to visit every location where the city has a utility meter and check for theft of service, code violations and corroded gas lines.
The energy services director also explained that he is only budgeting meters with remote disconnect features for approximately 20 to 25 percent of the city’s customer base.
“The difference in the meters is $75 compared to $125 per meter. Why spend the extra $50 to have that capability for customers that pay every month and never get cut off?” Prince asked.
Both Addleton and Prince said the new system will improve customer service.
“When we have high bill complaints we can actually tell the customer when they used that electricity or when they used that water if it was at 2 o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” Prince said.
Addleton also said, “Customers can look on their laptops and monitor how much electricity, water and gas they are using and manage their costs and control how much their utility bills are. This is a benefit people will demand in the future and this system can accommodate it.”
Councilman Jerry Cox who had questioned the recommendation at length continued to seek information Monday night.
“We have a new water plant about to come online. Then, we’re going to take MacIvor down and retrofit it and be required to put in another treatment plant with arsenic capability. How is spending this money now in relation to the money we’ve got to spend in the future? Are you going to come back next year and need $2 million to retrofit MacIvor?” Cox asked.
Addleton said that, originally, the money was going to come out of the city’s Municipal Competitive Trust Account, but he said that it did not make sense not to take advantage of the half a percent interest and the nearly $500,000 in principal forgiveness.
According to the city manager, the city could pay off the GEFA loan early after getting the principal forgiveness and pay off the balance with city funds from the Municipal Competitive Trust. “There’s no penalty for paying it off early,” he said.
Addleton said he understood Cox’s concerns and said that the purchase of new meters could be put off one or two years, but he could not guarantee that the offer of $500,000 in loan forgiveness would be available then or if GEFA would make a loan to the city or not and at what interest rate.
Councilman Douglas remained mute Monday night. “I’ve said all I had to say in previous meetings,” he said Tuesday.

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