It's coming almost two years later than expected, but Elizabeth City is moving forward with implementing a new $3.75 million “smart grid” system for its electrical and water systems.
The city will spend $2.25 million from its electrical fund and $1.5 million from its water-sewer fund for new smart meters, more electrical load management switches and other components, City Manager Rich Olson and Assistant City Manager Angela Cole reported to City Council Monday. Council approved pursuing the project more than two years ago, endorsing a downtown pilot project before committing to the costly, citywide project.
The city had hoped to start implementing the smart grid last year, but the city's struggles with converting its utility billing software has delayed the project. The software conversion failed and the city has largely restored its former billing system, but Olson proposed moving forward with the project.
Acknowledging city residents' frustration with recent utility problems, Olson also explained the city is working to ensure the smart grid rolls out smoothly.
“We have met with several communities that have recently implemented (the smart meters); we're learning from their mistakes, we're working on the sequencing, what we need to do,” Olson told councilors.
He suggested the project would be implemented area by area, rather than through immediate, citywide implementation.
While the smart grid project is part of his 2017-18 budget proposal, Olson also explained he would bring it back to council with more details before starting the long, costly project.
“We're probably 60 to 90 days away from bringing a proposal and debt financing package to you all,” Olson said. “We want to make sure you are all comfortable with it; it's something we cannot do overnight. The implementation process will take a year, 18 months, maybe two years to be implemented.”
Olson also suggested the smart grid project could boost customers' confidence in their utility bills by making usage data more transparent and accessible.
“And the other thing which is important right now because of what's going on in the community — there will be a private portal that allows an individual citizen, on their smart phone or device, to look at their electrical meter and chart what their electrical consumption is,” Olson said. “It's real-time data, is what they'll be able to do. I know there are people that believe somehow we're playing with data, manipulating data or whatever, but they'll be able to see it first-hand.”
Olson also recapped other benefits the smart grid can offer. It will help the city find and fix power outages faster, save the city money on demand-related charges through electrical load management, and allow remote meter reading and disconnections. It will also improve electrical load management, allowing the city to save money in demand-related charges.
One participant in the Nexgrid pilot project is Councilor Ray Donnelly, who said Tuesday he’s had no issues with it so far. He hasn’t tried out the private portal yet though, he noted.
In other details on next year's utility budgets, Olson noted that the 2017-18 budget would include a roughly 5-percent electrical rate decrease for residential customers. The budget also calls for $750,000 in electrical line maintenance and improvements and $330,000 for streetlights around the Tanglewood Pavilion shopping center.
As for water and sewer service, Olson is proposing no rate changes next year, but also significant capital projects. In addition to the Nexgrid project, he proposed $200,000 to replace small-diameter water lines in the “Cabbage Patch” area around Tuscarora Avenue, and $300,000 for cleaning, inspecting and repairing sewer lines as well as pump station improvements.
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