August 20, 2014 10:51:25 AM
Workers are expected to replace Starkville's 13,002 electric and 11,037 water meters with automated, usage-measuring devices in 2016 after city aldermen approved an implementation plan that is not expected to increase either utilities' rates.
The advanced metering infrastructure, provided by German manufacturer Elster, will utilize new meters that communicate to gatekeepers via cellular waves that, in turn, send precise usage measurements daily to Starkville Electric Department's website.
Not only will customers be able to track their daily and average water and electricity usage, but the technology allows for bill projections, more-flexible billing cycles and in-depth infrastructure status reports. The new system will also provide the city with quicker service responses, increased customer engagement, faster service restoration, increased operational efficiency, real-time monitoring and future adaptability to rate structures, SED General Manager Terry Kemp told aldermen Tuesday.
Combined, both SED and Starkville Public Works will pay about $3 million for new meters and the service for four years. Public Works Director Doug Devlin said his organization will use its cash reserves to finance its portion, while Kemp says SED will utilize its own capital improvements stream.
After the four-year period, the contract will have yearly renewals and is expected to continue at least a decade.
The new devices will allow both organizations to phase out contracted meter-reading services and not result in any loss of city jobs, the department heads confirmed.
Devlin estimated his department will save about 33 cents per meter from cut meter-reading services, while Kemp did not have a similar estimate for savings.
Hailed as a significant, watershed improvement to infrastructure capabilities by Mayor Parker Wiseman Tuesday, the city began studying a move to advanced metering in 2011. Elster was selected as the best solution for upgrades in April after a 2013 process sought proposals from vendors.
Kemp said SED and SPW targeted Elster because the company fit the city's needs, instead of the city adjusting its needs to fit what the company offers.
The city is expected to place an order for networking equipment and initial meters this month, according to a timeline provided by Kemp.
SED will handle meter replacements, but Devlin said his department will outsource the project due to the increasing workload public works already faces. Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn was critical of SPW's possible outsourcing, but Devlin asserted that his crews remain swamped with work orders during winter, a time that some departments see fewer individual jobs.
An initial deployment of the infrastructure is expected to begin this year, and city employees will begin training for the new system in 2015. The full deployment is expected in 2016.
While at first the system will communicate to servers via cellular waves, Starkville's fiber-optic network could take over as its primary line of communication in the future.
Since SED began laying cables that provide public Wi-Fi access in 2012, city officials have touted the infrastructure's ability to open the door for other improvements, including automated metering systems.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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