Albany, Ga., Pursues $18.3M in Smart Meter Funding

The city has been seeking a loan as a means of financing the $20.8 million advanced utility metering initiative. Some in the community say there are more pressing priorities.

by Carlton Fletcher, The Albany Herald / November 29, 2018
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(TNS) — The Albany, Ga., City Commission voted Tuesday night to move forward with the application process for an $18.3 million loan that will help finance the city’s $20.8 million advanced metering infrastructure project.

The commission could vote at its Dec. 11 meeting to formally approve the funding that will bring smart meter technology to its utilities customers.

The board voted unanimously to move forward with Davenport & Company Vice President for Public Finance Doug Gebhardt’s recommendation that the city negotiate with request for proposal low bidder Regions Bank’s 2.93 percent rate to finance the $18.3 million loan.

“We got requests from more than 12 lending institutions, and Regions had the lowest rate,” Gebhardt, who handled the bid process for the city, said. “We had all institutions give us bids on 6-year, 8-year and 10-year loans, understanding that the city wanted to use the more aggressive repayment plan of six years.

“We are asking for permission to move forward with negotiations with Regions. If things progress, you would be able to approve the loan at your Dec. 11 meeting and we could close shortly after that.”

City Manager Sharon Subadan said that a special called meeting might be necessary to meet time constraints.

Gebhardt said the city would pay $3.3 million annually on the loan and that the 2.93 percent rate would be fixed. He said the city could prepay the loan with a five-day notice.

One citizen, Warren Grant, challenged the need and the timing for the expenditure.

“You’ve got your priorities in the wrong place,” Grant said. “You’ve got floods and raw sewage in the streets, and you’re worrying about knowing when someone’s electricity is out. I don’t understand how this investment is going to come back to the city. I think you’re throwing $20 million away.”

Utilities Director Jimmy Norman told Grant that having the smart meter technology in place in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael would have allowed the city to restore utilities days sooner.

“If we’d had this technology during Michael, I would have gotten on my cellphone at that moment in time the location where all of the utilities were out,” Norman said. “As it was, we spent the first three days after the hurricane just doing an assessment. With the technology of the smart meters, we would have been able to start that process much sooner.”

Grant insisted that “the way you’ve always done it” would continue to work, saying the funding for the advanced metering would be better used to address the city’s aging sewer and water systems. He said he would like to be shown how the new technology would save the city and its taxpayers money.

“For small, mom-and-pop businesses — and 55 percent of our businesses are small businesses — those three or four days (of having electricity restored) can make a world of difference,” Ward III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said. “Look, we’ve done our due diligence on this. If you’re genuinely interested in seeing how this technology will benefit our citizens, we can show you.”

Before the commission voted 7-0 to move the negotiations forward, Subadan said, “This is not a shiny new toy for our toy box. It allows us to address and replace aging infrastructure before it fails.”

©2018 The Albany Herald, Ga. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.