News

Utility customers to get 'smart meters'

City Council supports two contracts for $18.1M to install 'advanced metering infrastructure'

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

In a move that city leaders say will make the city's municipal utilities more efficient and resilient, the Palo Alto City Council voted to approve $18.1 million in contracts on Monday to convert all electricity, gas and water customers to smart meters.

The 6-1 vote, with council member Greg Tanaka dissenting, followed about eight years of exploration of what is known as "advanced metering infrastructure" — a system that includes five base stations, 10 radios and about 74,000 new or upgraded meters for utility customers. The city plans to start installing the meters gradually between next year and 2024.

To facilitate the switch, the council approved a $16.8 million contract with Sensus USA, the company that will be installing the new equipment and a $1.3 million contract with E Source, which will provide consulting services relating to project management and system integration for four years. The project will also entail a shakeup in the Utilities Department, as the city will no longer require meter readers. Instead, staff is suggesting creating three new positions, an AMI manager, a systems technician and a data analyst.

Many current staff members will get new responsibilities. Shiva Swaminathan, senior resource planner at Utilities Department, said between 50 and 60 individuals will be involved with the smart meters project.

"It's a large, all-encompassing project," Swaminathan told the council.

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In making the case for the new system, staff suggested that smart meters will improve the customer experience by providing residents with more information about electricity usage and alerting them — and the city — about water and gas leaks. For the council, however, the biggest selling point was the flexibility it will give to the city when it comes to setting electric rates. As the council tries to encourage more customers to convert to electric vehicles, solar panels and energy storage systems to meet the city's carbon reduction goals, the system will allow utilities to raise and lower rates based on demand at any given time. As such, it will provide an incentive for customers to use electric appliances such as washers and dryers in off-peak times.

"AMI is what's going to enable us to do time-of-use rates, which will enable us to use solar at the right times, and other sources of energy when we need it," council member Alison Cormack said. "Which will mean we'll be able to reduce our greenhouse gases."

Mayor Tom DuBois agreed and suggested that the new system will allow the city to run its utilities more efficiently.

"We're definitely not leading on this," DuBois said. "There are other utilities that have moved ahead with smart meters so it's no longer really a novel thing."

The project is nearly a decade in the making. Palo Alto began exploring smart meters in 2012, putting together a pilot program for about 300 customers that stretched between 2013 and 2017. The following year, the council endorsed the new technology and directed staff to move ahead with plans for a citywide system. Staff estimates that the system ultimately cost about $20.9 million, though it is not expected to raise costs for customers.

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Tanaka, who voted against the contracts, suggested that's not good enough. With meter readers no longer required, the system should be saving money rather than simply allowing the city to break even, he said.

"I would've thought that should actually net some benefit, some cost savings for utility customers," Tanaka said. "But basically, we're soaking it all up in staff costs, which is just hard for me to stomach."

His colleagues, however, overwhelmingly supported the staff proposal, with council member Greer Stone suggesting that the smart meters will help Palo Alto reach its ambitious goal of slashing carbon emissions by 80% by 2030, with 1990 as the baseline. Vice Mayor Pat Burt said the system will also include various functions that don't translate as easily into costs and revenues but that are nevertheless valuable. This includes enhancing the city's ability to quickly restore power during outages, detect water leaks and make utilities more reliable.

"I think that it's important for us to recognize that we're anticipating … a whole series of benefits that are extremely valuable," Burt said.

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Utility customers to get 'smart meters'

City Council supports two contracts for $18.1M to install 'advanced metering infrastructure'

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Oct 19, 2021, 9:35 am

In a move that city leaders say will make the city's municipal utilities more efficient and resilient, the Palo Alto City Council voted to approve $18.1 million in contracts on Monday to convert all electricity, gas and water customers to smart meters.

The 6-1 vote, with council member Greg Tanaka dissenting, followed about eight years of exploration of what is known as "advanced metering infrastructure" — a system that includes five base stations, 10 radios and about 74,000 new or upgraded meters for utility customers. The city plans to start installing the meters gradually between next year and 2024.

To facilitate the switch, the council approved a $16.8 million contract with Sensus USA, the company that will be installing the new equipment and a $1.3 million contract with E Source, which will provide consulting services relating to project management and system integration for four years. The project will also entail a shakeup in the Utilities Department, as the city will no longer require meter readers. Instead, staff is suggesting creating three new positions, an AMI manager, a systems technician and a data analyst.

Many current staff members will get new responsibilities. Shiva Swaminathan, senior resource planner at Utilities Department, said between 50 and 60 individuals will be involved with the smart meters project.

"It's a large, all-encompassing project," Swaminathan told the council.

In making the case for the new system, staff suggested that smart meters will improve the customer experience by providing residents with more information about electricity usage and alerting them — and the city — about water and gas leaks. For the council, however, the biggest selling point was the flexibility it will give to the city when it comes to setting electric rates. As the council tries to encourage more customers to convert to electric vehicles, solar panels and energy storage systems to meet the city's carbon reduction goals, the system will allow utilities to raise and lower rates based on demand at any given time. As such, it will provide an incentive for customers to use electric appliances such as washers and dryers in off-peak times.

"AMI is what's going to enable us to do time-of-use rates, which will enable us to use solar at the right times, and other sources of energy when we need it," council member Alison Cormack said. "Which will mean we'll be able to reduce our greenhouse gases."

Mayor Tom DuBois agreed and suggested that the new system will allow the city to run its utilities more efficiently.

"We're definitely not leading on this," DuBois said. "There are other utilities that have moved ahead with smart meters so it's no longer really a novel thing."

The project is nearly a decade in the making. Palo Alto began exploring smart meters in 2012, putting together a pilot program for about 300 customers that stretched between 2013 and 2017. The following year, the council endorsed the new technology and directed staff to move ahead with plans for a citywide system. Staff estimates that the system ultimately cost about $20.9 million, though it is not expected to raise costs for customers.

Tanaka, who voted against the contracts, suggested that's not good enough. With meter readers no longer required, the system should be saving money rather than simply allowing the city to break even, he said.

"I would've thought that should actually net some benefit, some cost savings for utility customers," Tanaka said. "But basically, we're soaking it all up in staff costs, which is just hard for me to stomach."

His colleagues, however, overwhelmingly supported the staff proposal, with council member Greer Stone suggesting that the smart meters will help Palo Alto reach its ambitious goal of slashing carbon emissions by 80% by 2030, with 1990 as the baseline. Vice Mayor Pat Burt said the system will also include various functions that don't translate as easily into costs and revenues but that are nevertheless valuable. This includes enhancing the city's ability to quickly restore power during outages, detect water leaks and make utilities more reliable.

"I think that it's important for us to recognize that we're anticipating … a whole series of benefits that are extremely valuable," Burt said.

Comments

film jedi
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 19, 2021 at 10:47 am
film jedi, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 10:47 am
BobH
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Oct 19, 2021 at 10:55 am
BobH, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 10:55 am

I both support the smart meter project, and also agree with council member Greg Tanaka, that there should be a cost saving for utility customers.


neighbor of PA
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 10:57 am
neighbor of PA, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 10:57 am

Way to go Palo Alto. It’s about time. Finally following the lead of PG&E, who installed my smart meter in 2009. There will certainly be climate benefits when people can easily shift consumption to less polluting hours when they have the incentive and information to do so.


Mama
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 11:10 am
Mama, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 11:10 am

Why would the city continue to employ the same number as now? There are plenty of jobs for these workers elsewhere and think of the pension savings. No more wasteful padded city payrolls, pls.


Tom from Midtown
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 19, 2021 at 11:16 am
Tom from Midtown, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 11:16 am

I hadn't heard that smart meters are harmful to health. I'm guessing that it's the RF radiation that some are concerned about. A quick search pulled up this, from the "Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative" whoever that is -- I'm certainly not vouching for the accuracy of the article, but it asserts "facts" that wouldn't be that hard to check:

* In-depth review of the scientific literature by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that the small amount of radio frequency (RF) energy produced by smart meters is not harmful to human health.

* RF emitted by smart meters is well below the limits set by Federal Communications Commission and it is below levels produced by other common household devices like cell phones, baby monitors, satellite TVs, and microwaves. In fact, you would have to be exposed to the RF from a smart meter for 375 years to get a dose equivalent to that of one year of 15-minutes-per-day cell phone use.

No credible evidence shows any threat to human health from RF emissions at or below RF exposure limits developed by the FCC. With over 25,000 articles published on the topic over the last 30 years, scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals.

Hope this helps.


neighbor of PA
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 12:48 pm
neighbor of PA, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 12:48 pm

Thank you, Tom from Midtown, for some reason and sense on this issue.


caprichoso
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 1:45 pm
caprichoso, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 1:45 pm

No credible evidence shows any threat to human health from RF emissions at or below RF exposure limits developed by the FCC. With over 25,000 articles published on the topic over the last 30 years, scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals.

There are individuals who are sensitive to EMF. I've met a few of them, some of whom can get severely ill from exposure. There is no financial incentive to investigate this population, which is extremely small. I've gone through a blind EMF exposure test and at certain frequencies I experience symptoms, although not as severe as some exceptional individuals. The fact that there may be no effects on the general population is no comfort to those who suffer from its effects.

Luckily meters are often a distance from living areas which limits any negative effects on sensitive individuals. I've never asked any of these individuals about whether they have issues with smart meters.


Moctod
Registered user
University South
on Oct 19, 2021 at 2:00 pm
Moctod, University South
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 2:00 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.


Jane
Registered user
Ventura
on Oct 19, 2021 at 7:53 pm
Jane, Ventura
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 7:53 pm

I'm generally in favor but I'd like to know how they will be secured and how much that security will cost.

www.smart-energy.com/regional-news/north-america/hacking-smart-meters-a-defence-warning/


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