In 1901, Independence city leaders – then a community of roughly 7,000 – decided to take a bold step and create our current municipal electrical power company now known Independence Power and Light.

It was a time of great change and innovation.

Automobiles were a novelty, commercial radio was unimagined and television an unknown idea. Computers, internet and amazing personal technology would come later.

City leaders created the city-owned electrical utility at the turn of the 20th century so the community could benefit from the opportunities (real and many not even imagined) from harnessing the capacity to generate and transmit electricity could have for the community.

“Ownership of the electric utility meant independence for the people of Independence,” commented an official history of the city electric utility which now serves a community of over 116,000 with over 56,000 electric and water customers.

And like the world around us, the electric utilities and the backbone transmission grid over which it wheels electrical power is facing tremendous changes.

The industry is shifting from coal-fired generation to other sources, primarily natural gas, wind and solar. Currently 13.5 percent of IPL’s power is generated from either wind (purchased in Kansas) or solar (currently generated by the community solar farm and scheduled to significantly expand next summer).

And other changes are at hand.

One is a City Council decision – scheduled for Oct. 16 – on whether to install smart meters, or what the industry calls advanced metering initiative (AMI) for all electrical and water customers served by our city-owned utilities.

Our seven-member City Council – the board of directors for the city-owned utilities – will consider a $29.7 million 10-year contract to pay for all new digital electric and water meters.

The project, if approved, would be the largest single city capital investment since construction of the Events Center (now Silverstein Eye Centers Arena).

The costs would be shared among three city utilities: IPL ($10.5 million); Water ($15.6 million) and Water Pollution Control ($1.7 million). The total cost includes material, software, support, annual recurring fees and maintenance for 10 years.

The project can be financed from current revenue and would not require any rate increase. A cost analysis projects the city could recoup the total project costs within eight years.

If approved, the project would start in 2018 with the initial replacement of 5,000 electric and water meters and all city utility meters replaced over three years. Installation of the new digital utility meters would be done by outside contractors.

There are 58.5 million advanced meters operational in the U.S., 40.6 percent of all the total 144.3 million meters, according to a December 2016 federal report. In 2008, the percent of advanced meters was only 4.7 percent.

Other area utilities including Kansas City Power and Light and Board of Public Utilities (Kansas City, Kan.) have already installed automatic meters.

The decision before our community is whether to catch up, or fall further behind in management of our city-owned utilities. [We currently are in the process of replacing an antiquated billing system.]

More accurate meters will mean customers will pay for what electricity and water is actually used. And real time data will allow customers to monitor and manage electrical and water usage.

Electric utility service can be remotely disconnected and restored without requiring city staff to physically visit homes, apartments or businesses. City employees who currently read utility meters will be reassigned to other jobs at the same pay. No one will be laid off.

There has been a thorough investigation of smart meters over a two-year period.

This matter has been reviewed several times by the City Council, competitive bids received and thoroughly reviewed and the project received unanimous support of the Public Utilities Advisory Board

Our utility has come a long way since it was a created over a century ago. It is time to take the next step.

A solid case has been made; the proposal pays for itself.

Consumers realize benefits by being better able to manage electrical and water usage.

Health risks from radio frequency exposure are minimal and privacy concerns can be addressed.

Failing to act now would mean missing out on an important opportunity.

Let’s get catch up and do the smart thing.

Let’s do this.

– The authors are the organizers of IndyEnergy, a grassroots independent community effort to promote broader understanding and discussion of utility issues in the City of Independence. Learn more at www.indyenergy.org