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By Carmen Ensinger
For the past several months, the city of Winchester has heard proposals from companies who specialize in systems for the automation of gas and water meter reading. The last and final proposal was heard Wednesday night, Oct. 6 from Suez Water Technologies and Solutions in a 20 minute presentation by Andre Noel, Director of Revenue Enhancement.
Suez currently owns 15 water utilities and is the largest owner/operator/maintainer of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems in the country.
“This allows us to design the best solutions for you,” Noel said. “When AMI first came out 23 years ago, it was designed for large utilities – not small utilities like you.”
One of the biggest advantages of AMI is that instead of getting a once a month snapshot of water usage for customers, AMI allows for hourly readings of water usage for each and every customer.
“AMI allows you to see trends and usage for all of your water customers,” Noel said. “You can see a water line that has broken and the system can tell you when something is wrong. AMI can monitor what is going on on both the water and gas side and you can use that information to proactively help your customers.”
Noel said the system is a fantastic system, but it has to be maintained and that is where they come in.
“We will come in, change out the meters that need changing out and put something behind your current meters that will allow them to be read by the system,” he said. “The meters will be read every hour and sent to the cloud.”
Noel said when AMI first came out, it was a one-way system, but today it is a full two-way system.
“You can talk to the meter,” he said. “If someone comes in and says there is no way they used that much water, all you have to do is ask the system to read the meter. They have a shut off feature so you no longer have to go out to the meter to do shut offs.”
Other advantages is it will allow you to forecast revenue for the month, reduce billing adjustments and detect any unusual water activity. In other words, if a customer has a huge spike in their water usage, the system will send out an alert. The customer can download an app and will get this alert, thereby alerting them that they have a water leak. The city will also get this alert. Currently, the only way to know if there is a leak, that can’t physically be seen by a large gathering of water or such, is to see it on the next water bill.
The system they selected for Winchester would be an open system which would allow the city to use any meter they wished . Additionally, the Badger water meters they have been installing the last couple of years could be used. They can also bring on any additional meters they wished.
Installation would include two 30 foot poles which would house the data collectors which would also be solar powered should the system lose electrical power. There is a redundancy system as well should one of the collectors come offline it would be backed up by the other system.
As for cost justification, Suez estimated the city would realize a revenue enhancement in the area of $140,000 a year in just the water department alone, not include the gas department. However, installation cost would be between $910,000 to $950,000 with a maintenance cost of around $25,000 per year.
Noel said the cost was so high because the state of Illinois requires a licensed plumber to install all of the meters. He also said that this was just an estimate and that he could not get the numbers locked in from the plumber he had talked to.
Another plus from Suez is that they would self-finance the system and spread the cost out of five years and delay the first payment for up to a year.
“We are willing to make the investment to make it work,” Noel said.
However, the two previous companies who had given demonstrations were much cheaper than Suez, at roughly half the cost. The council discussed the possibility of going with the system from Utility Pipe, which seemed to be the better deal, cost-wise. No, decision was made, however.