Fulton nearly half way through citywide electric meter upgrades

New meters will allow ratepayers to see usage on hourly basis

Within the next work week, the city of Fulton will be halfway through meter upgrades that will make it easier for city ratepayers to monitor their energy consumption.

About 2,000 of the city's 5,000 residential electric meters have been swapped out for smart grid meters that, unlike the city's previous meter system, can be read or shut off remotely and offer readings on an hourly — rather than monthly — basis.

The city began the process of purchasing and switching over to the new meters in 2011, though technical issues that are now resolved postponed citywide implementation until now. At a rate of about 100 installations per day, city officials expect the switch-over will be completed in about a month.

Utilities Superintendent Darrell Dunlap said the new system was good both for the city and its utility customers.

"This gives us a lot of flexibility in the future," Dunlap said. "We could do time-of-use rates, the old system couldn't do that. Say at your house you'd like your bill to be $125. When you get it set up, and (your bill) starts getting close, we can send you an email or a text letting you know.

"The customer picks the limit. We're giving the customer a lot more information to help them manage their bill."

In the smart grid system the city is installing, meters track usage and report to the utilities department electronically, without having to dispatch crew members. The meters can also be shut off remotely if customers come into city hall to move out of their current residence.

The electric meters contain the reporting modules and are considered the "backbone" of the system, meaning they had to be installed and tested first before Fulton could implement smart gas and water meters. Currently one-third of both the water and gas meter upgrades is budgeted, and Director of Administration Bill Johnson said he expected some of them to be installed by the end of the year.

Johnson said because of limitations of the technology the city was using to this point — some residential meters in Fulton are up to 40 years old — each meter had to be read manually, meaning utility customers only got one lump usage total for the month and all bills had to be sent out and collected on the same day. Now, the city can implement unique due dates and can send out more timely bills.

"We could only be one or two days behind," Johnson said. "We could read all the meters Monday night and have bills in the mail Wednesday."

Dunlap said the water meters would also include a leak sensor, letting crews and ratepayers know within 24 hours if there is a leak present in a home or apartment's water system. Additionally, with online reports that include the day's temperature, Dunlap said customers could identify problems with their home's heating or air conditioning before receiving an unusually large monthly bill.

City and meter company crews are out on designated utility routes over the coming weeks. Residents in those areas will see yard signs advertising upcoming meter changes and can expect to lose power for about a minute or less as the meters are swapped out.

Johnson said the total cost of the project was about $3 million, paid for half by a federal grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and half by contributions from city operational budgets over the past several years.

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