Milford is considering the option of moving to a smart metering program, which would allow for remote reading and control of water and electric meters.

Milford is considering the option of moving to a smart metering program, which would allow for remote reading and control of water and electric meters.

The issue, which has been under consideration for more than a year, was introduced by City Manager Richard Carmean at a Public Works Committee meeting Tuesday morning, with some specifics provided by Electric Department Superintendent Rick Carmean.

The purpose of switching to a smart metering program would be to save money on personnel and maintenance costs in the future, as the program would diminish the need for staff to make trips to residential or commercial meters for reading, connections and disconnections.

Currently, the meter department uses hand-held devices that function on a radio frequency to read meters. Electric meters can be read up to a quarter-mile away, but water meters, which are often underground, generally require closer reads, explained Dave Brenneman, who has been reading meters for about 37 years.

“They all do remote readings, it’s just a matter of what they can do after that,” Brenneman explained. “There’s a lot more individual attention you can do with a smart meter.”

Currently, city crews have to upload routes and meter locations to the hand-held devices, get close enough to the meters for reads, return to the office and upload the collected data to a computer system, which is then sent to the billing department for processing. The meter department currently executes weekly reads, checking about 2,000 meters per week, in each of Milford’s four wards.

A smart meter would designate an IP address for each meter serviced by the city, pinpointed with a GPS location, which would allow crews to coordinate meter locations on satellite maps, like Google Earth, and could even determine which meters are on and which are off.

“So you don’t have to send someone out. You’re saving gas and time,” Rick Carmean explained to the committee.

The ability to remotely manage electric and water meters would allow public works staff to zone in on possible outages, as well as remotely disconnect customers who move or fail to pay their bill, and connect those who pay late bills after hours or move to a new location. The city manager said the digital system could also allow crews to identify cases of meter tampering.

“You’re going to get a lot of savings with personnel, mileage on trucks, overtime,” Rick Carmean said. A remote system would eliminate the need for stand-by crews and overtime hours, as well as time spent by the Milford Police Department, when disconnected customers need service restored after city office business hours. “It’s not just meter reading. It’s a lot more than that.”

In addition to cost savings for the city, a smart meter system could allow for residents and businesses to closely monitor utility usage. If smart meters are implemented, the city would also have a new billing system and web portal with real time data that could be accessible from a home or business computer.

According to Rick Carmean, the specifics regarding the cost of the project have not yet been explored.

The city manager, however, compared the projects of other Delaware cities, like Newark, to estimate that the project would take about $5 million to complete, but Richard Carmean said it is unclear where those funds would come from.

According to Richard Carmean, Newark spent $11.5 million on its smart meter program, with a projected 15-year savings of $24,560,120. Newark implemented the program for 10,142 water meters and 11,968 electric meters, he said.

In Milford, there are only 6,800 electric meters and 3,400 water meters that would be converted to the remote access metering system.

“If you take the numbers … If we used this system, we’re probably looking at a $5 million project,” Richard Carmean said to the committee. “It pays for itself in a 10- to 15-year period, and then some.”

While a smart metering program would reduce the need for manpower to a certain extent, the city manager said he wouldn’t expect any job eliminations.

“We wouldn’t want to see us lay anybody off because of technology,” he said. However, because the proposed project is in such an early phase, it is unclear how it would affect the staffing.

Multiple agencies are on the table for the project, but the city manager expects to have Siemens present the project in a future City Council workshop meeting.