News

City prepares to switch to 'smart meters'

Council to consider approving more than $18M in contracts for advanced metering infrastructure

An electric meter on the side of a residential structure. Courtesy Getty Images.

Seeking to advance its conservation goals and improve reliability of its municipal utilities, Palo Alto is preparing to approve more than $18 million in contracts on Monday to transition all electricity, gas and water customers to "smart meters."

The technology will obviate the need for meter readers and allow the city to introduce new programs aimed at encouraging conservation. The biggest of these is a contract for up to $16.7 million with Sensus USA, a company that will be installing advanced metering infrastructure in Palo Alto starting next year, with the goal of completing all installations by the end of 2024.

For Palo Alto, the quest to adopt smart meters began in 2013, when the city launched a pilot system for about 300 homes. After considering feedback from the program and an economic analysis, the council approved in November 2018 a plan for investing in the new system, which a new report from the Utilities Department calls a "foundational technology that is becoming a standard in the utilities industry."

The new infrastructure, the report states, will improve customer experience, improve system reliability and make it easier for the city to meet its environmental sustainability and resiliency goals. The technology will be able to identify water leaks and nudge customers to charge their vehicles during off-peak times.

But while the council has already endorsed the switch to smart meters, it balked on approving the contracts on the council's "consent calendar," a list of items that get approved without discussion. Instead, council members Lydia Kou, Greer Stone and Greg Tanaka asked to pull the item from the calendar and to hold a full public hearing on the project.

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Tanaka pointed to the size of the contract as the reason for holding a full discussion.

"I think it's important when you have contracts of this magnitude that we really try to make sure we get the best pricing possible," Tanaka said.

The list of contracts includes $15.3 million with Sensus USA, as well as authorization for the city manager to executive change orders for up to $1.5 million with the company installing the meters. The council is also scheduled to approve a $1.3 million contract with E Source for consulting services relating to smart meters. The money to fund the project would be transferred from the Utility Department's "Electric Special Projects" reserve, which is intended for major one-time expenditures.

According to the timeline in the plan, the project entails installation of five network poles and 10 collector radios, which will collect meter data continuously and transmit it every 15 minutes. The company will also replace the roughly 30,000 electric meters that are currently in use and retrofit the city's 20,798 water meters and 24,208 gas meters to allow them to transmit data.

If the council approves the staff's plan, the city and Sensus will start installing the network along with some initial meters early next year and then hold a "soft launch" for a limited number of customers in mid-2023. Mass deployment would stretch from June 2023 until December 2024.

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Once they are installed, the city will proceed with designing programs that utilize the technology to reward customer conservation and efficiency.

An analysis commissioned by the Utilities Department concluded that the new system would be close to breakeven financially, with little to no impact to utility costs to customers over the 18-year life of the project. Staff also pointed to nonquantifiable benefits such as enhanced customer experience and improved system reliability to support its conclusion that the new system would be a "net benefit to all utility customers, particularly for the electricity and water utility customers."

The Utilities Advisory Commission, which reviewed the proposal in July, concurred with this assessment and voted 5-1 to support staff's plan for converting utility meters. The only dissenting vote came from Commissioner Phil Metz, who urged staff to develop a strategy for how the system will be used before advancing the project.

"I think there are good reasons to do AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) but we should have a concrete plan … in order to justify this program," Metz said.

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City prepares to switch to 'smart meters'

Council to consider approving more than $18M in contracts for advanced metering infrastructure

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 15, 2021, 8:58 am

Seeking to advance its conservation goals and improve reliability of its municipal utilities, Palo Alto is preparing to approve more than $18 million in contracts on Monday to transition all electricity, gas and water customers to "smart meters."

The technology will obviate the need for meter readers and allow the city to introduce new programs aimed at encouraging conservation. The biggest of these is a contract for up to $16.7 million with Sensus USA, a company that will be installing advanced metering infrastructure in Palo Alto starting next year, with the goal of completing all installations by the end of 2024.

For Palo Alto, the quest to adopt smart meters began in 2013, when the city launched a pilot system for about 300 homes. After considering feedback from the program and an economic analysis, the council approved in November 2018 a plan for investing in the new system, which a new report from the Utilities Department calls a "foundational technology that is becoming a standard in the utilities industry."

The new infrastructure, the report states, will improve customer experience, improve system reliability and make it easier for the city to meet its environmental sustainability and resiliency goals. The technology will be able to identify water leaks and nudge customers to charge their vehicles during off-peak times.

But while the council has already endorsed the switch to smart meters, it balked on approving the contracts on the council's "consent calendar," a list of items that get approved without discussion. Instead, council members Lydia Kou, Greer Stone and Greg Tanaka asked to pull the item from the calendar and to hold a full public hearing on the project.

Tanaka pointed to the size of the contract as the reason for holding a full discussion.

"I think it's important when you have contracts of this magnitude that we really try to make sure we get the best pricing possible," Tanaka said.

The list of contracts includes $15.3 million with Sensus USA, as well as authorization for the city manager to executive change orders for up to $1.5 million with the company installing the meters. The council is also scheduled to approve a $1.3 million contract with E Source for consulting services relating to smart meters. The money to fund the project would be transferred from the Utility Department's "Electric Special Projects" reserve, which is intended for major one-time expenditures.

According to the timeline in the plan, the project entails installation of five network poles and 10 collector radios, which will collect meter data continuously and transmit it every 15 minutes. The company will also replace the roughly 30,000 electric meters that are currently in use and retrofit the city's 20,798 water meters and 24,208 gas meters to allow them to transmit data.

If the council approves the staff's plan, the city and Sensus will start installing the network along with some initial meters early next year and then hold a "soft launch" for a limited number of customers in mid-2023. Mass deployment would stretch from June 2023 until December 2024.

Once they are installed, the city will proceed with designing programs that utilize the technology to reward customer conservation and efficiency.

An analysis commissioned by the Utilities Department concluded that the new system would be close to breakeven financially, with little to no impact to utility costs to customers over the 18-year life of the project. Staff also pointed to nonquantifiable benefits such as enhanced customer experience and improved system reliability to support its conclusion that the new system would be a "net benefit to all utility customers, particularly for the electricity and water utility customers."

The Utilities Advisory Commission, which reviewed the proposal in July, concurred with this assessment and voted 5-1 to support staff's plan for converting utility meters. The only dissenting vote came from Commissioner Phil Metz, who urged staff to develop a strategy for how the system will be used before advancing the project.

"I think there are good reasons to do AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) but we should have a concrete plan … in order to justify this program," Metz said.

Comments

Hulkamania
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2021 at 9:05 am
Hulkamania, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2021 at 9:05 am

Let the junk science protests begin...


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2021 at 9:22 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2021 at 9:22 am

I have nothing against this technology, but wonder why it can be done so quickly when undergrounding our lines takes over 50 years.

It is about time we joined the 21st century with our powerlines.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 15, 2021 at 10:04 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2021 at 10:04 am

$18,000.000? Where's our $12,600,000 refund and how much is the city's appeal costing us?


Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 15, 2021 at 10:57 am
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2021 at 10:57 am

Thought the city was short on money. Where is our utility refund for ripping us off?


Observer
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 15, 2021 at 11:55 am
Observer, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2021 at 11:55 am

Justification boils down to "breakeven financially, with little to no impact to utility costs to customers over the 18-year life of the project" and "nonquantifiable benefits such as enhanced customer experience and improved system reliability". Those are sufficient reasons to spend over $18 million? No savings in utility costs? When you add in the cost of capital (money isn't free) and consider alternate uses of this money that might benefit the citizens in more tangible ways, this shapes up as a loser and a questionable allocation of scarce resources.


Hulkamania
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2021 at 4:15 pm
Hulkamania, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2021 at 4:15 pm

So far there's been some really good arguments against the smart meters. Where are the junk science protesters?


Mondoman
Registered user
Green Acres
on Oct 15, 2021 at 4:34 pm
Mondoman, Green Acres
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2021 at 4:34 pm

The article notes " the project entails installation of five network poles and 10 collector radios...".
What sort of poles are these? Like cell towers, perhaps? For neighborhoods with underground utilities, will unsightly freestanding poles be erected?


Moctod
Registered user
University South
on Oct 22, 2021 at 1:08 pm
Moctod, University South
Registered user
on Oct 22, 2021 at 1:08 pm

I do not believe that the new meters present a health hazard, except to your financial health.

We will opt out of the AMI ("smart") meter system to aviod the the huge increase in electric bills that we experienced with a house that was converted by PG&E. You must do this before the new meters are installed at your residence. You pay a one time fee of $75. and then $10 per month for three years. After that there is no charge. The charges are less for low income residents.

Once these AMI meters are all installed in 2005, the city will start significantly increasing the cost per KWH in order to push our residents away from using power when they want to use it. They will wait until all of the meters are installed, as there will be a real stink when those bills arrive.

If you think you can avoid electric use durning the high rate periods (i.e. 5 PM to 11 PM) Check the proposals by our Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP) Ad Hoc Committee, run by yet another contractor and attended by strong supporters of cutting off all natural gas service to Palo Alto residents in 2025. The name of this committee should be changed to "The Committee to Terminate Residential Natural Gas Service." Their own figures show that residential natural gas usage is one of the smallest contributors to Palo Alto's carbon emissions- auto traffic is, by far, the biggest factor.

The S/CAP plan to date is to first deny building permits unless the home is all electric, give incentives to buy new expensive heat pump appliances, then require the installation of those appliances (which would cost tens of thousands of dollars) and then terminate natural gas to all residents. Industry and the City will be exempt from the total ban.

So, in 2025 our residents will face very large increases in electricty rates and, it is proposed, a termination of natural gas service. Good luck in keeping warm that winter and start saving for those new electric stoves, water and home heaters.


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