The Independence City Council has made a move regarding “smart meters” for the city utilities – though not yet a final decision.
A council majority Monday directed the city manager to negotiate a contract with Honeywell for buy and install advanced metering infrastructure, also called AMI, for the city’s three utilities – electric, water and sewer.
The city has already negotiated a $29.7 contract with Core & Main for the same thing, but the council punted on that decision in the fall of 2017, then turned it down this past April. Council members cited further consideration for the best technology and implementation options as reasons for voting no. In August, the council heard presentations from the five finalist vendors.
Core & Main was the lone vendor that offered a point-to-points digital transmission system and was preferred by city staff, while all others offered what’s called a mesh system. Honeywell rated the highest from that group.
Monday’s resolution passed 4-3, with Mike Huff, Karen DeLuccie and Scott Roberson voting in dissent. DeLuccie and Roberson had voted in dissent back in April, along with former Council Member Chris Whiting.
With Honeywell, City Manager Zach Walker will negotiate based on its alternate proposal for $24.8 million, which would include installation but not purchase of water meters. The Water Department would then purchase meters through a separate bidding process. Including water meters, the total estimated capital cost would be $30.57 million, according to city information.
“They agreed to give us that option; we didn't ask,” Water Department Director Dan Montgomery said of Honeywell allowing a different water meter.
Mayor Eileen Weir emphasized her view that Monday’s resolution merely allows the council to vet an important issue further – a “more complete side-by-side comparison,” she said – as the council still would need to have two readings on an ordinance to approve the contract. The negotiations would involve issues such as warranties and replacements.
Roberson, who strong favors the point-to-point technology because of stronger network security, less transmission time and less maintenance, argued that the resolution amounts to simply the beginning of going ahead with a mesh system. He had offered an amendment to bring the Core & Main contract back instead – staff's decision to go with them came after the “most thorough RFP process for any agenda item in city history” he said – but received no voting support.
He then moved to put a measure on the April 2019 ballot asking citizens whether the city should use point-to-point or mesh, with an opt-out in either case, but that vote failed 4-3. DeLuccie and Huff supported him, and Weir, Curt Dougherty, John Perkins and Tom Van Camp voted to go ahead.
“It's important to realize it's all around us,” Roberson said of neighboring utilities using smart meters. “It will save money; it could allow us to lower rates, or at least keep us from having to raise rates for awhile.”
The Public Utilities Advisory Board concurred with city staff on Core & Main as the preferred vendor, but after Weir asked the group more than once it said that if the council decided on a mesh vendor then Honeywell should get the nod.
Huff, who joined the council immediately after the April vote, said he's not in favor of either – that the smart meters are want, not a need, and the city should be focusing more on using future power generation to lower rates.
“I don't think people care too much if it their meter's read by a computer or person,” Huff said.
The city has estimated net savings of $36 million over 15 years by deploying smart meters. An opt-out policy would be included in contract, though according to the proposed policy utility account owners who opt “will not be eligible for any future rate reductions on cost savings associated with AMI meters.”