Of the 43 who had refused to allow CU crews and contractors to replace their old manually read meters with the new automated, or SmartMeter technology, eight have now authorized the transition, according to Bart Borden, vice president of the CU Electric Division.
“Several have changed their minds ... we anticipate more will do so,” Borden reported at a recent monthly session of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities.
Shortly after the CU board authorized the opt-out fee on Aug. 23, the public utility sent letters to each of the 43 holdouts making them aware of the new rate that will take effect Nov. 1. The monthly increase became necessary to allow CU to offset the costs of maintaining a meter-reading route that will service isolated customers who are reluctant to authorize the AMI (also called AMR for Automated Meter Reading) units to operate at their homes.
One of CU’s original purposes for converting to the remote-read meters was to reduce the utility’s operating costs by eliminating meter-reading positions and associated travel costs in fuel and vehicle maintenance. Other objectives included preparation for new TVA time-of-use rates that are scheduled for the future, reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the environment by getting more service vehicles off the road, and improving the efficiency and accuracy of the meter-reading process.
AMI technology allows customers’ home meters to be remote-read using radio frequency signals; however, some customers were hesitant to accept the new process because of concerns over home privacy, fears that CU could control the use of their home appliances and health concerns involving the transmission process. Tom Wheeler, CU president and CEO, also reported earlier some customers simply did not have a full understanding of the new technology.
“The good news is that our customers have a choice,” Wheeler said. “ ... In most places, they don’t even have a choice.”
He was referring to other utility companies that have converted to AMI technology, but have not included an opt-out policy for customers. In these instances, the meter changeout is required of everyone. In CU’s conversion initiative, customers who refuse the AMI units will have the $10 tacked on to their monthly bill, but they will be allowed to continue using the old manually read meters.
Even after the opt-out rate takes effect, customers still using the old meters will be allowed to make the AMI conversion should they elect to do so.
Borden said crews have now completed the AMI installation systemwide except for the few who refused them. During the long initiative, CU crews and contractors installed almost 30,000 units. In August, 24,123 AMI accounts were billed, meaning the new remote-read units were used for billing purposes.
The three-phase changeout project cost CU approximately $4.6 million, including materials expenses and contractor installation. The contractor in all three phases was Apex Covantage. Of the $4.6 million, $4,502,466 was for meters, software and equipment; and $104,282 was for Phase 1 installation, $99,906 for Phase 2, and $42,847 for Phase 3.
In his Electric Division report to the CU board, Borden also gave a brief update on traffic lighting projects. These included:
n Traffic Signal Coordinator Tad Bacon assisted contractor Cannon & Cannon of Knoxville with the installation of counting equipment at the Ocoee and 25th Street intersection. Turn and through movements were recorded before and after the start of schools. The information was requested by the Cleveland City Council and has been forwarded to the Tennessee Department of Transportation to determine if a scaled-down version of the proposed intersection redesign will satisfy traffic demands now and in the future.
n Crews continued their work on the downtown corridor. Timing settings have been obtained at nine of the 13 intersections along Ocoee, Broad and Inman streets. Five of the replacement traffic controllers have been programmed. He said 900 Mhz radios are expected to be delivered within three weeks. “Our plans are to have all the traffic controllers programmed and ready to start the installations when the radios arrive,” Borden reported.
n CU engineers reviewed traffic signal drawings by TDOT for the Benton Pike and Durkee Road, Benton Pike and Michigan Avenue, and Highway 64 and Durkee Road intersections. Comments and specifications for all three junctions were forwarded to TDOT’s design office in Nashville.