Eighteen months after receiving a Department of Energy grant to install a smart grid system to read its utility meters, the City of Fulton has awarded a bid to install that system.
The Fulton City Council approved a $2.14 million bid from Tantalus Systems Corp. as recommended by city staff who have worked on the project over the past year and a half.
Utilities Superintendent Darrell Dunlap explained how city officials came to the conclusion that Tantalus was the best option for Fulton.
"We got four bids back at the first of this year. Smart Sync was ruled out because of how they brought information back to the city we would have had to buy a data package," Dunlap said. "Itron was dropped because it did not meet the requirements."
The remaining two bidders - Tantalus and Elster, which submitted a $2.13 million bid - were close enough that city officials decided to go on site visits to several other municipalities who have recently installed smart grid systems to see the differences and benefits of their options first-hand.
Fulton staff visited Norwich, Conn. to see a Tantalus system that had been installed and had passed initial testing of the system; Pulaski, Tenn. which is also using a Tantalus system with success; and Columbia, Tenn. where an Elster system is being installed and has been working well to-date.
Ward 1 Councilman Mike West asked whether the two companies made their own equipment. Tantalus makes its own equipment for electric meters and partners with another company for gas and water meters. Elster makes all of its own.
Dunlap said the biggest difference between the two companies that swayed Fulton toward the Tantalus system was communication and how the data from the meters is sent back in to the city.
"One thing we see as very important is the communication. All the staff felt Tantalus was the best system for that," Dunlap said.
Director of Administration Bill Johnson agreed that he felt Tantalus was the better choice.
"I sat through hours and hours of this," Johnson said. "In my opinion, there is no bad choice, but there is a better choice (because of) the communication, the ease of setting up the network."
Former mayor Charles Latham, who also had been heavily involved in researching the smart grid project, also spoke up in favor of Tantalus when several council members asked if he had anything to say.
"Right now this technology is so new (it's like) we're deciding if we want to go with Macintosh or Apple," Latham said. "The gee-whiz gadgets will always come and go, but you'll always need communication for those gee whiz gadgets."
Prompted by questions from West, Dunlap explained that some of the benefits of the Tantalus system include citizens being able to log in and check their usage and the ability to set alerts so that when usage nears a certain rate level the system will send an alert warning the user is getting close to the budgeted amount.
"I also like that as a last-gasp task the system will send in an alert when the power goes out," Dunlap said. "There's also leak detection for water. At some point over a several-day period as you turn everything off at night, your meter should hit zero usage. If not, we'll get an alert and we can call you and say, "You haven't hit zero, you might want to check, you might have a leak.'"
After hearing the assessments offered by several Fulton staff members, the council voted to approve the Tantalus bid.