Utility customers will be moved to ‘smart meters’ | New

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In a move that city officials say will make the city’s municipal utilities more efficient and resilient, Palo Alto City Council on Monday voted to approve $ 18.1 million contracts to convert all electricity, gas and water customers using smart meters.

The 6-1 vote, with council member Greg Tanaka dissenting, follows about eight years of exploring what’s known as “advanced metering infrastructure” – a system that includes five base stations, 10 radios and approximately 74,000 new or improved meters for utility customers. . The city plans to start installing the meters gradually between next year and 2024.

To facilitate the change, the board approved a $ 16.8 million contract with Sensus USA, the company that will install the new equipment, and a $ 1.3 million contract with E Source, which will provide consulting services in project management and systems integration for four years. The project will also entail a reshuffle of the utility service, as the city no longer needs meter readers. Instead, staff suggest creating three new positions, an AMI manager, a systems technician, and a data analyst.

Many current staff will have new responsibilities. Shiva Swaminathan, senior resource planner in the utility department, said between 50 and 60 people will be involved in the smart metering project.

“It’s a big overall project,” Swaminathan told the board.

Advocating for the new system, staff suggested that smart meters would improve the customer experience by providing residents with more information about electricity usage and alerting them – and the city – to water leaks. and gas. For the council, however, the main selling point was the flexibility it will give the city when it comes to setting electricity rates. As the council tries to encourage more customers to convert to electric vehicles, solar panels and energy storage systems to meet the city’s carbon reduction targets, the system will allow utilities to increase. and to lower the tariffs according to the demand at a given time. As such, it will encourage customers to use electrical appliances such as washers and dryers during off-peak hours.

“AMI is what will allow us to price according to the hour of use, which will allow us to use solar energy at the right time, and other energy sources when we need it.” Said Alison Cormack, board member. “Which means we will be able to reduce our greenhouse gases.”

Mayor Tom DuBois agreed and suggested the new system will allow the city to manage its public services more efficiently.

“We’re definitely not leading on that,” said DuBois. “There are other utilities that have moved forward with smart meters, so it’s not really new anymore.”

The project has been in the making for almost a decade. Palo Alto began exploring smart meters in 2012, setting up a pilot program for around 300 customers that spanned between 2013 and 2017. The following year, the board approved the new technology and asked staff to ‘move forward with plans for a city-wide system. Staff estimate that the system ended up costing around $ 20.9 million, although it shouldn’t increase costs for customers.

Tanaka, who voted against the contracts, suggested that was not enough. With meter readers no longer needed, the system should save money rather than just let the city break even, he said.

“I would have thought that it should actually generate benefits, cost savings for utility customers,” Tanaka said. “But basically we are absorbing all of that into personnel costs, which is just hard for me to bear.”

His colleagues, however, overwhelmingly backed the staff proposal, with board member Greer Stone suggesting that smart meters will help Palo Alto meet its ambitious goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2030, with 1990 as a benchmark. . Vice Mayor Pat Burt said the system will also include various functions that don’t translate as easily into costs and revenues, but are valuable nonetheless. This includes improving the city’s ability to quickly restore power during blackouts, detect water leaks, and make utilities more reliable.

“I think it’s important for us to recognize that we anticipate… a whole host of extremely valuable benefits,” said Burt.


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