CU contractor completes AMI conversion
by RICK NORTON, Associate Editor
Nov 05, 2012 | 1521 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cleveland Utilities contractor Apex CoVantage completed the installation of some 30,636 Advanced Metering Infrastructure remote-read units almost two weeks before the Oct. 1 goal, according to Bart Borden, vice president of CU’s Electric Division.

The last installation came Sept. 17, allowing the public utility to bill 26,289 AMI accounts in September. The remainder were expected to go active for October’s billing.

Borden’s update came during a recent formal session of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities at which time he and CU President and CEO Tom Wheeler pointed out the lengthy three-phase process has been a major undertaking for installation crews.

Throughout the process, CU tested each of the old manual-read meters after their removal. Most were running reliably, but the AMI units will be far more accurate, Borden stressed.

“... The new meters a­re more accurate than those replaced,” the longtime CU electric engineer pointed out. Of those whose accuracy was slightly off, most were actually running slow, meaning they were under-reading customers’ kilowatt-hour usage. Only a few were running too fast, he said.

Barden said the largest variance in meter accuracy among the old units, either too slow or too fast, was about one-half of 1 percent (.5).

Of those running a little too slowly or a little too fast based on post-removal testing, “... they averaged out,” meaning no trends were observed showing customers were being consistently over- or undercharged for electricity use.

Accuracy and overall efficiency are among the several reasons CU chose to convert to the AMI (also called AMR for Automated Meter Reading) units. Even more colloquially, they are known by some as SmartMeters because of their high-tech function. The technology selected by CU allows for remote-reading by radio frequency signals.

A comparable style, yet distinct from the CU version, is an AMI used by Volunteer Energy Cooperative which allows for the remote-read to be done over existing power lines. VEC launched its AMI conversion seven years ago and included some 17,500 electrical customers in Bradley County.

Alongside improved accuracy and streamlined efficiencies, CU also elected to convert in order to prepare for the new TVA time-of-use rates that are scheduled for the future, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the environment by getting more service vehicles off the road, and to save on costs associated with manual meter reading such as fuel, vehicle maintenance and manpower.

Although the vast majority of CU customers allowed the new meters to be installed in their homes and businesses, a small handful declined due to a variety of reasons. Some expressed health concerns that they associated with radio frequency waves, some felt remote-read meters constituted an invasion of privacy and others had a natural fear of new technology because of misunderstandings.

To accommodate these 43 customers, CU designed an opt-out fee of $10 per month which is to be paid by any customer who rejects the AMI units. The added cost is intended to pay for expenses associated with maintaining a single manual-read route. Since the fee’s implementation, eight of the 43 customers had changed their minds and have now allowed the AMI installation in their homes. Borden provided no new numbers for September.

The AMI conversion cost Cleveland Utilities approximately $4.8 million over the full installation period; however, Wheeler believes the end results will speak for themselves.

“I think over time the technology will prove itself,” Wheeler told board members in August. “Any time you roll out a new technology, sometimes there is some fear of it.”

He added, “Over time, the technology will be there and people will get comfortable with it just like we’ve seen [with other] technology over the decades.”

Two primary examples are microwaves and cellphones.

In other developments, Borden reported:

- Work continues on the Peerless Road, Freewill Road and district substation design projects.

- A work order was issued to provide electric service to the new SuperSaver grocery store on Broomfield Road.

- A work order was issued to provide electric service to four lots in Frontage Village. The new townhome development is expected to include 28 lots at completion.

- Maintenance crews changed out 17 reject poles, repaired 173 street and security lights, painted 32 overhead transformers, trimmed 715 trees and completed 233 service orders involving miscellaneous problems. Borden said overhead lines are patrolled regularly to locate tree and material issues to prevent outages.

- During a scheduled testing and maintenance of equipment at the Valleyhead Substation on Paul Huff Parkway, crews discovered two power transformers that had components which failed leakage tests. All failing equipment was replaced. “We are certain the failing equipment would have resulted in a future power outage at this station,” Borden said. “It was a very good find by our field personnel and testing company.”