Smart Meters for Wichita Falls, Texas, Could Improve Water Conservation

The smart meter signal is relayed to a computer system, and residents can access their home’s meter information from a customer portal.

(Tribune News Service) --  The wave of the future in the municipal utilities world, the advanced metering infrastructure, may be a part of Wichita Falls water system in the near future.

City Chief Financial Officer Jim Dockery said the city has a memo of understanding with Energy Service Company, a consulting group that specializes in system implementation, to see whether the AMI system is a right fit for Wichita Falls.

Sometimes called smart meters, AMI is a system of water meters equipped with two-way radio that emits signals periodically.

The signal is relayed to a computer system, and residents can access their home’s meter information from a customer portal.

Dockery said AMI puts the power in the hands of customers because they can access their information and water use.

The move toward AMI technology could help water conservation, ease the current labor-intensive process and allow customers increased access to their water meter information.

The city’s current system is labor-intensive, using five employees to manually read each of the city’s 35,000 water meters each month.

When information is tracked every 30 days, Dockery said, it can be difficult to detect and fix a water problem.

Customers sometimes call the billing office because of a high bill, and they don’t know if or when there was a leak.

AMI can relay meter information as often as hourly so that customers and staff can better track down if there is a water leak and when it occurred.

“If there’s continual usage, like a night when there shouldn’t be usage, then there might be a leak,” Dockery said.

Customers could log on to a portal and get current information about their water use and a history of past use to compare.

If ESCO’s initial system analysis goes well, the City Council will be asked to approve a more detailed investment-grade analysis.

In the first phase ESCO will look at the size, number, age and leakage of the current water meters.

During the next phase, a sampling of meters would be tested for accuracy.

The analysis would take about six months, and if approved, installation of the AMI system would take 12 to 18 months.

Workers change out about 1,000 meters per month during changeover.

While Dockery said the city does not yet have a cost estimate, similar systems in comparably sized cities in Texas have cost between $17 million and $20 million.

Dockery said smart meters’ improved accuracy, longer life span and operational savings could allow the city to implement the system and pay it off through a debt financing service over the course of about 20 years.

While there would be a decrease in staff in the water meter department, Dockery said current staff could be reassigned to other city jobs.

A new utility-billing software system is in the works and is expected to be complete this year.

The city is working with Munis to set up the system, convert data and upload customer records.

To avoid confusion, Dockery said, the billing software must be completed before implementation of the AMI system could begin.

With the new billing system, customers will receive an 8½-by-11 paper bill with a tear-off tab and return envelope instead of the current postcard-size utility bill.

©2015 the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC