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Negaunee council moves forward with electrical metering project

NEGAUNEE — The city of Negaunee will update its current electric metering system with advanced metering infrastructure over the next five years.

In a 5-1 vote during its March 12 meeting, the Negaunee City Council approved a $454,000 expenditure to install the new AMI infrastructure. Councilman Paul Maino was absent from the meeting.

The system would replace the Automatic Meter Reading method used by the city’s electric and water departments.

The city partners with WPPI Energy, a member-owned, not-for-profit company serving wholesale electric power to 51 community-owned electric utilities.

Under the current billing system, electric department employees travel through the city once a month to collect usage data from electric meters via a radio transmitter. That information is then uploaded to WPPI’s central billing system where it is made available for billing by the city.

AMI meters would send usage information to the billing system every 15 minutes, allowing customers to see it in real time.

The change was proposed, in part, because the meter-reading software currently used will no longer be supported by the vendor after 2021. In addition, the field-collection equipment used by city workers will no longer be manufactured, according to a council agenda supplement, rendering the current system obsolete.

The cost of the project will be offset by a $1.42 per month increase in the city’s electric service fixed charges. The increase was approved as part of the city’s 2020 fee schedule during a special council meeting in October.

City Councilman Jason Wallner called the planned upgrades “an overall worthwhile project.”

“We’ve already budgeted for it, and as (was) already pointed out, we put it in the fee schedule. And if we take a look at those numbers, it is spaced out over a period of years to get this up and operational,” Wallner said. “Just overall, I think it’s going to do a great boost just in terms of our customers to be able to take and access those 15- minute updates if needed –resolving some of those situations we have seen in cities around us where customers suddenly got their bill and discovered they had a huge water leak. So, it’s just going to increase our customer service ability as we see our other systems expand.”

Councilman Don Gladwell, who cast the sole vote against the measure, said he would like to wait on the project.

“My issue is, I don’t believe it’s been budgeted for already. I know it’s not in the capital improvement plan for the last one that we approved. I had a meeting with (City Manager) Nate (Heffron) on that and he confirmed that what I just said is true,” Gladwell said. “Again, I am all for this, I think it’s a better way for us to do what we need to do in light of the fact that we are going to be losing this vendor … I still think that there are cheaper alternatives out there that will get us to what we want to do. And I think we just need time to be able to do that. I think by postponing this another year and adding it to our normal schedule of capital improvement projects and everything, I think that would be the best way to go. That’s where I stand.”

The project will be implemented in stages until 2024, the agenda supplement states. The total cost will be split with $291,950 coming from the city’s electric fund and $161,960 from the water fund.

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

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