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Lubbock, Texas, Votes to Spend $35M on Smart Electric Meters

Contracts totaling $35 million were approved to purchase the electronic metering system, which is anticipated to be operating by mid-2020.

(TNS) — The Electric Utility Board of Lubbock, Texas, on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to purchase and install more than 100,000 advanced electric meters — often called smart meters — across the city.

The board that oversees Lubbock Power & Light unanimously approved a set of contracts totaling about $35 million to purchase advanced metering infrastructure, the customer information system and the new billing system for smart meters. Some of the contracts will go to the city council at its next meeting for final approval before LP&L moves forward in the hopes of having the system in place and operating in mid-2020.

Replacing some of the roughly 105,000 electric meters with the new advanced meters could begin by the end of this summer. The new billing and customer service systems could accommodate advanced water meters as well, and A-J Media was told after the meeting Tuesday the Lubbock City Council will discuss purchasing these meters in this summer's budget discussions, which would come at an estimated $18.5 million.

LP&L's electric and the city's water meters are currently read by meter readers walking down alleyways. Smart meters, according to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, communicate energy consumption data to electric utility providers in near real time through brief low-level radio frequency transmission signals that occur for a few seconds.

LP&L officials say it would allow customers to track usage in real-time, allow customers to set electric usage alerts, customize billing dates and identify patterns of high electric usage. Smart meters would also allow LP&L to turn off or switch accounts instantly. The possible advanced water meters to be discussed later will have the potential to notify customers of any potential leaks.

"We've been talking about this for a long time, everybody knows we've got to join the 21st century," EUB Chairman Greg Taylor said Tuesday. "It'll be so much better customer-service wise, accuracy, billing and all that stuff. Customers will be able to monitor their own usage on a near real-time basis."

Lubbock is currently the largest city in Texas without advanced electric meters, according to LP&L.

LP&L's progression toward advanced meters moved forward last year when the board approved a contract for new billing software that could accommodate advanced meters. The board passed a budget for this fiscal year that included $38 million for the infrastructure, data management and information technology related to these advanced meters, as well.

The cost for smart meters has been part of the rate hikes LP&L implemented the previous four years. The annual rate hikes that concluded this fiscal year consisted mostly of yearly 5.75 percent increases to the base rate that makes up about 30 percent of electric bills. The increases to the base rate were projected to collect $333 million, and $38 million of that was budgeted for smart meters.

Andy Burcham, LP&L's chief financial officer, gave a presentation over the contracts, timeline and implementation of advanced electric meters ahead of the vote Tuesday.

One citizen spoke against smart meters during the citizen comment period at the beginning of the meeting. He spoke about health concerns, privacy and security. Burcham addressed these concerns during his presentation to the board. He said no personal data will be shared over the meters, only the usage number. He also said the radio frequency of advanced meters is 1,000 times lower than FCC limits, and significantly lower than the radio frequencies of cell phones and microwaves.

According to a data sheet completed by LP&L, a person would have to stand within eight inches of a smart meter for 24 hours a day for an entire year to have the same radio frequency exposure as spending one minute talking on a cell phone.

LP&L will offer the option to opt out of using advanced meters. Customers choosing to do so, according to LP&L, will need to pay an initial $127 opt-out charge and a monthly fee of $25 to cover the cost of manually reading and upkeep on the meters.

If this gets approved by the city council at its next meeting in June, Burcham said there will be an initial installation phase of about six months where the network will be installed and tested. About 500 electric meters will be installed during this time to test the new system. Then starting in 2019, the rest of the meters will be installed over 12 months.

The timeline now is to have the system go live in April 2020.

©2018 The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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