PUD picks new ‘smart’ meter vendor

Allison Arthur, aarthur@ptleader.com
Posted 7/4/17

New “smart” electrical meters are coming to Jefferson County.

Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) commissioners have chosen Itron, a company based in Liberty Lake, Washington, to …

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PUD picks new ‘smart’ meter vendor

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New “smart” electrical meters are coming to Jefferson County.

Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) commissioners have chosen Itron, a company based in Liberty Lake, Washington, to supply 19,500 new meters to replace all of the system’s aging meters, many of which are 30 years old.

The project, which could take three years to complete, is to begin at the end of the year and cost an estimated $2.5 million.

“Sixty percent of the meter population is the high-failure, low-accuracy mechanical type,” said Kevin Streett, assistant general manager and electrical operations superintendent, quoting from a PowerPoint presentation shown to commissioners.

That same PowerPoint presentation noted that 450 meters fail each year and that 30 percent are incapable of being read daily because of their age.

There are multiple goals involved in replacing the old mechanical-style meters with new smart meters; smart meters have two-way communication and can “talk in a variety of ways,” as Streett puts it. The new meters should help the PUD respond more quickly to outages, ensure fewer power spikes and allow the utility to read meters remotely.

The PUD expects to recoup the costs of the project within five to seven years through more accurate meter readings, fewer PUD staff requirements, less third-party meter reading costs, lower cost of meter replacements, better customer communications, improved outage management and better system controls.

Street says all of those features are benefits of the new meters.

Because the new meters also are expected to accurately record power consumption, Streett acknowledges that some customers could see their bills go up.

“We don’t like to say their bills are going up. We like to say they’ll be charged the correct amount,” Streett said.

POLICY ISSUES

There also are policy issues that have yet to be worked out for customers, including who pays in cases when meter bases need to be replaced and what the policy will be for those who want to “opt out” of the new smart meters.

Before the meters are installed – at no cost to customers – the meter bases and connections need to be inspected for safety issues. Those bases are owned by PUD customers, not the PUD.

“Absolutely everyone has one somewhere,” Streett said of the meter bases. What’s unclear is who will pay if those meter bases are deemed unsafe or defective and need to be replaced, he said.

“There are a lot of policies that have yet to be determined,” Streett said. “What I think will happen is that at upcoming board meetings, all these things will be discussed and the board will make a decision.”

An opt-out option also is under consideration for customers who wish to have the radio-frequency feature of their meter turned off.

Streett said there are a number of utilities that have opt-out options and that would be up to the board to decide.

Other policies to be reviewed and potentially revised or created deal with reconnection procedures, options on disconnections, demand response and time-of-use rates.

METERS FROM ITRON

PUD commissioners accepted a proposal by Itron for new meters for all PUD customers.

Itron was one of nine companies that submitted information to the PUD and it was the lowest bidder.

“Not only did Itron score the best in the review, they also came in with the lowest bid price,” according to a press release.

ITS bid was for $2,135,220, compared to the next lowest bid from Eaton, which was for $2,137,442. Verizon had the highest bid of $3,560,363 using a GE type of meter.

Streett said the new meters are similar in size to the existing meters and the only inconvenience people might experience is a brief power outage when they are installed.

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