MMU approves new meter system

MARSHALL — The days of having meter readers are coming to an end for utilities in a growing number of American communities. Marshall will be joining them, too.

At their regular meeting Wednesday evening, Marshall Municipal Utilities commissioners voted to accept a bid for a new advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system. The system will have new “smart meters,” which can be monitored remotely by MMU.

MMU General Manager Brad Roos said the goal will be to replace the electric and water meters for MMU customers within the next two years.

Commissioners were presented with AMI bids from four different companies on Wednesday, as well as recommendations from Dave Allen of consulting company SL-serco. Allen recommended MMU accept a bid from utility meter company Itron, Inc.

“They are a large provider of this work and have been for some time,” Allen told commissioners.

The bid included total capital costs of $2.694 million to install a new AMI system. That system includes smart meters for both electricity and water. With maintenance and other annual costs over five years, the total project cost would come to $3.072 million.

AMI systems are becoming more common for utilities around the country, including in southwest Minnesota, Roos said Thursday. The new metering systems have been adopted by rural cooperatives, and cities like Worthington.

One of the key differences between AMI systems and MMU’s current meter system is the use of smart meters. The meters MMU uses right now need to be read in person. Smart meters, on the other hand, “have built into them the means to communicate with our office,” through radio or other communications systems, Roos said. It cuts down on the need to have meter readers visit utility customers and can provide meter data in near real time.

MMU management said there will need to be staff training to learn the new metering system, as well as the software that will be used to manage the data from the smart meters.

In discussion of the bids on Wednesday night, MMU commissioners said they thought AMI technology was the future for utility meters. However, not all were convinced MMU should purchase a new metering system now.

“It’s less money than we had thought about, but it’s still $3 million,” said commissioner Bill Ziegenhagen.

Replacing utility meters is an anticipated expense for MMU, Roos said. Going with the AMI system would just mean replacing all the meters at once, instead of gradually over the next 15 years.

Commissioner Bill Reilly said he wasn’t sure the timing was right to switch to a new meter system. There are some members of MMU management who are considering retirement in the next few years, and both Reilly and Ziegenhagen wondered if it would be better to wait until new management is in place.

“I believe the timing is right,” Roos said. The technology for smart metering systems is becoming more established, and if MMU waits longer to adopt AMI, it could be “running” to catch up in the next few years, he said. MMU would also benefit from having experienced management present during the transition to AMI, he said.

Roos said Missouri River Energy Services, the company which provides MMU with electricity, would likely offer AMI for its customers, but on a fee-for-service basis.

“We don’t bring this forward lightly,” Roos said of the AMI proposal. But, he said, “We’re going to live with whatever decision this board makes.”

After discussion, commissioners voted 4-1 to accept the bid from Itron. Reilly cast the vote against.