Smart water meters, or meters that can relay your water-use wirelessly, are the future. Officials say the new meters can help customers conserve and even send alerts when waterline leaks are detected but installing the technology is critical to its success.
Water billing was brought up at Thursday night’s public forum, hosted by Councilmember Chris Cate, where hundreds of homeowners who had questions about their water bills attended.
“Every single time the water bill will come,” one homeowner said, “I will open it and I will be like, what is going on?”
Earlier in the day, Mayor Kevin Faulconer stood with Public Utilities Department staff at a news conference, announcing a previously planned city audit of the water department will be expanded.
“I’ve asked the auditor to expand the scope of the audit to evaluate any role that smart meters may have played in those billing errors,” Faulconer said.
Since 2012, the Public Utilities Department said they have been replacing analog, direct-read meters with AMI-compatible meters that transmit water-use wirelessly.
“With real estate, everything is location, location, location,” Tom Kelly with the American Water Works Association said, “When you install one of these [smart meter] systems, it’s installation, installation, installation.”
NBC 7 Responds reached out to Kelly last year when homeowners began complaining about large fluctuations in the water-use they were being billed for.
“The installation is absolutely critical to ensuring the proper operation of the system and that the billing is done properly for the customers,” Kelly said.
NBC 7 Responds has been looking into who installed the AMI-ready meters and if those employees were properly trained.
According to water meter repair and replacement data obtained by NBC 7 Responds, dozens of meters were actually installed backward, where crews had to be called back out to the home to fix the problem.
“You can have the best system but unless it’s installed properly, it can cause you an unbelievable amount of problems,” Kelly said.
Kelly stressed it’s also important to determine how the new meters were programmed and connected to the city’s billing system. An incorrect move of one decimal point could have a devastating effect Kelly said, adding, “Their usage would be multiplied by a factor of ten so that’s just an absolute public relations nightmare.”
The city has said so far, 90,000 AMI-ready meters have been installed while only 15,000 are actually connected to their billing system, relaying water-use wirelessly to homeowners.
Officials have not linked the new, smart meters or installation of the new, smart meters with any of the billing problems so far and once the system is up and running, they feel the system will be a game changer.
“The program’s success relies on customer’s confidence that the technology behind smart meters is sound,” Faulconer said.