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AMI delay: Negaunee council hopes to decide on electric/water meter enhancements in March

NEGAUNEE — Plans to implement advanced metering infrastructure for Negaunee’s electric and water services will have to wait.

The Negaunee City Council voted unanimously Thursday to delay a decision on the advanced metering infrastructure, or AMI, until next month’s meeting. This was due, in part, to the absence of Mayor David Kangas and councilmen Edward Karki and Paul Maino.

The city currently uses an automatic meter reading, or AMR, system to collect monthly meter data for customer billing, said Brett Niemi, services representative for Wisconsin Public Power Inc. Energy.

After 2021, the software used by the city in its electric and water departments for collection of customer usage information will need to be upgraded and the equipment used for field collection will no longer be supported by the manufacturer, Niemi told the council.

Under the current system, city electric employees travel through the city once per month and collect usage data from electric meters via a radio transmitter.

That information is then sent through WPPI’s central billing system where it is made available for billing by the city.

AMI meters would send information to the server every 15 minutes, Niemi said, allowing the city and customers to view the information in real-time.

“Customer expectations are changing,” Niemi said. “AMI provides more technologies than what AMR does. And, really, as billing systems, they are not apples-to-apples comparisons. The AMI provides you with a lot more capabilities. I kind of liken it to, think back in 2007 when the iPhone came out. Getting an iPhone in 2007 was kind of a luxury item. Today, a smartphone is pretty much standard equipment, and we are seeing a lot of similarities with AMI.”

He said AMI will give the water or electric customer more opportunities to analyze their usage.

“You can go in and set alerts and alarms, and because you have 15-minute interval data, you can get alerts on that to help yourself out,” Niemi said.

The advanced metering infrastructure will also provide real-time outage mapping, automatically generate service requests, send text messages and phone calls to utility personnel and record outage history, he said.

AMI implementation, if approved by the council, could cost up to $454,000.

The expense would be split, with the city’s electric fund paying $291,950 and the water fund absorbing $161,960. The project would be completed over a five-year period, with larger energy consumers slated for the first AMI meter installations.

The council approved the city’s 2020 fee schedule during a special meeting Oct. 3, which included a $1.42 per month increase in the city’s electric service fixed charge, effective Jan. 1.

The increase is meant to offset the cost of AMI implementation, officials said.

Councilman Don Gladwell, who made the motion to delay the decision, said while he appreciates the technical innovation AMI would bring, he would like to gather more information on the project before voting to approve its implementation.

“I see the benefits, I just don’t know if it is something that we need in Negaunee. What is the true benefit to the city?” Gladwell asked. “I just don’t know what we are going to gain from a city standpoint.”

Negaunee City Manager Nate Heffron said that overall, city utility customers will receive better service and more capabilities, but the city will also benefit from greater efficiencies because city staff will no longer be required to complete meter data collection monthly.

In addition, the AMI system will give city billing employees the ability to shut off or restart services right from the system, rather than sending an electric department worker out to manually shut off or restart service.

“Obviously there will be some savings in labor,” Heffron said. “And I think the more information we get out to our customers the more they will be able to adequately use our system.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.

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