Committee to explore smart meter option for Lubbock
Feb 06, 2013 (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Members of an ad-hoc committee say they're going in with open minds as they're tasked to determine the feasibility of combining advanced metering technology on water and electric meters in Lubbock.
At Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson's request, the city's Water Advisory Commission and Electric Utility Board appointed a handful of members to meet with city staff over the coming months to analyze the potential costs, advantages and disadvantages of the technology, said committee member Marc McDougal.
Lubbock Power & Light staff and utility board members for months have pushed advanced meters as a potential cost saver that could increase efficiency by allowing crews to pinpoint the exact location of an outage.
"I don't want anyone to think I've made up my mind on this," said McDougal, a member of the utility board. "I want to see the numbers. We want to look at the cost, look at the returns and look at the benefits and drawbacks before we make a decision."
Water and electricity, along with stormwater and garbage service, are bundled on the same city utility bill.
"If we're going to go with advanced meters, we need to do both water and electricity because the way the billing is done," McDougal said.
Jim Collins, chairman of Lubbock's Water Advisory Commission, said the commission appointed members Jim Conkwright and Ken Rainwater to serve on the committee to determine if advanced metering technology is a worthy investment.
He said the city considered upgrading to smart meters early last decade, but pushed the project to the back burner as the city focused on finishing the Lake Alan Henry pipeline, which was completed last August.
"It's a cost issue," Collins said. "Cost is probably issues No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3."
LP&L staff have estimated it could cost about $20 million to replace all 100,000 LP&L meters.
The estimated price tag comes from several vendors of the meters LP&L staff have spoken to, said Chris Sims, an LP&L spokesman.
It's unclear how much more including smart meters for each water meter would add to the cost, said Dale Stephens, LP&L's distribution superintendent.
Stephens said LP&L staff plan to invite vendors to give the board more information about the technology during its meeting in February.
The prospect of installing advanced metering technology in Lubbock faces opposition.
Several citizens spoke during the Jan. 31 city council meeting, warning city leaders to consider unknown but potentially harmful side effects from the technology, including privacy concerns and health hazards from the signals meters emit.
Many smart meters send signals with data about power consumption to the utility company, said Lubbock Power & Light CEO Gary Zheng. But the signals emitted are at a frequency less than a cordless or cellular phone, he said.
Burley Owen, a Lubbock resident, urged city leaders to investigate potential health hazards before committing to the project.
"There has been very little research on smart meters other than by the utilities themselves," he said.
Owen said he wanted the city council to know there are opponents to advanced meters in the city, promoting a local anti-advanced meter website www.lubbockagainstsmartmeters.com.
Both Collins and McDougal said they take seriously claims of potentially harmful side effects and hope to see research before committing to a project.
Nearly 88 percent, or about 5.98 million of a total of 6.8 million meters in the state's competitive markets, use advanced metering technology, Terry Hadley, a spokesman for the Texas Public Utilities Commission, told the Avalanche-Journal in September.
Competitive markets aren't owned by a municipality like Lubbock, Austin or San Antonio.
In August, South Plains Electric Cooperative completed replacing 47,000 traditional electric meters with advanced meters. The traditional instruments cost $30; the new ones $100 each, according to the cooperative. South Plains' project began in 2000.
The meters allow utility companies an option of offering customers time-of-day electric rate choices, such as lowering rates during low-usage overnight hours.
Some customers have raised invasion-of-privacy concerns about the information the technologically sophisticated meters send, such as time and volume of utility usage, Hadley said.
Stephens said the city-owned power company's meters won't have the technology to spy on customers. The chief goal lies in reducing the need for physical meter reading and pinpointing outages as they happen.
Stephens said the meters will be on the outside of a home and will not be connected to other equipment inside the residence.
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