Advanced metering being studied for Cookeville utility departments

By Tracey Hackett

From The Herald Citizen

COOKEVILLE — The Cookeville City Council has approved a measure to evaluate equipment that could simplify billing and usage issues for its utility departments.

Engineering firm Allen and Hoshall has been hired as a consultant to develop specifications for an advanced metering infrastructure and assess the specific needs for such equipment of all city utility departments, which include electric, gas, water and sewer.

“An advanced metering infrastructure could provide a number of advantages to both the utilities and their customers,” said Tony Peek, director of the Cookeville Electric Department.

Those possible advantages include the customer option to prepay for their utilities, with an online portal to which they could log on and look at their usage data.

“That option would essentially allow customers to control their utilities like they control the gas in their vehicles,” he explained.

Because of being able to provide that real-time usage information for each customer, the system could also help alleviate complaints of high billing and put the individual customers in greater control of improving their efficiency of using the utilities.

It would provide the opportunity to charge time-of-use billing, which means that the utility company could evaluate its peak times of usage and charge higher costs during those times but lower costs for non-peak times.

For the utility departments, the system would give them the ability to remotely read meters and connect and disconnect customers.

“Right now, we have to physically send people out to those locations to take care of those tasks. With an advanced metering infrastructure, we could take care of them simply by logging into the computer system,” Peek said.

Such a system would also provide outage data management, providing specific information about power outages as they occur.

“Outage data management is a feature of the system that would help us to increase our system reliability and our response time to outages when they occur,” he said.

And just as customers can participant in energy efficiency incentives, the system would allow power distributors to participate in energy incentives as well, to help them save money.

But for now, the engineering firm is simply crafting an evaluation based on the specific needs of the individual Cookeville utilities and procurement specifications to determine the best vendors of advanced metering infrastructure equipment and systems to meet those needs.

“They will be sorting through lots of information to determine the city’s needs and to recommend the best AMI vendor based on all that information. We anticipate that this process alone will take about eight months,” Peek said.

A cost-benefit analysis is just one piece of information the engineering consultants will be considering.

This phase of the process is expected to cost no more than $38,500.

While the consultants will look more closely at the cost of purchasing and installing such a system, Peek said he estimates it will cost around $2 million to bring it to the 18,000 Cookeville Electric Department customers.

It will likely cost around $1.5 million to implement the system in the Cookeville Gas Department and $3 million to $4 million to implement it in the Cookeville Water and Sewer Department.

Allen and Hoshall will consider if it will be cost efficient to implement it across all city utility departments.

When a plan is developed, it will likely take three to five years to phase in the entire system, Peek said.

And further council approval will be required for implementing the plan, selecting vendors and other decisions along the way.

“But this gets us started by looking at our needs and considering what options we have available,” Peek said.


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