Albert Rukwaro
Special to The Gardner News
The Gardner City Council Sept. 16 postponed a decision to award a contract for the implementation of a smart meter system for the city’s electric and water utilities.
The council tabled the motion to award the $4 million contract to Nexgrid, a Virginia corporation following a recommendation by the utilities advisory commission.
Gonz Garcia, utilities director and Costa Apostolakis, Nexgrid CEO, gave presentations to the council and answered questions.
Gardner resident Connie Duncan had urged the city to reconsider awarding the contract because of concerns about radiation emissions and the public health effects of the new technology.
Duncan, who spoke during the public comments section of the meeting, said the city needed to do more research on the gadgets and produced documents she said she found on the internet that backs her concerns.
“I know we are told not to believe everything we see online, but I have found some of the information to be compelling,” she said.
She also said the city had not come up with an opt-out option for those who did not want the new smart meters installed on their property.
Apostolakis said the technology was not any more dangerous than cell phones, but he acknowledged there are some smart meters that could pose health risks.
“That is not what we have here,” he said.
Garcia told the council that the city did not have a policy for residents to opt out of the program but said it was up to the council to give direction on the matter.
Lee Moore, councilmember, said the smart meter project was controversial, and it might be worth a public hearing.
“I worry that we may pass it and then there’s an uproar when people learn about it,” he said.
Steve Shute, mayor, said there could be rumors and misconceptions about the smart meters and the public was entitled to a process that ensured accurate information was provided.
The council voted 4-1 to table the motion until Oct. 21 during which a public information campaign, including a public hearing will be held.
The utility advisory commission recommended that the city council award a contract to Nexgrid for the installation of the meters during a Sept. 5 meeting.
Garcia, utilities director, and Amy Foster, business services manager, told the commission that a committee of seven city officials had reviewed proposals from six corporations for the project.
The city has set aside $4 million for the project in its 2019-2020 budget.
Garcia told the commission that the majority of water meters in the city are over 15 years old, and the city experienced up to 13 percent in unaccounted water loss in 2018.
“In 2018 the unaccounted water loss was 13 percent of the water used or, in terms of dollars, was approximately $798,000 in lost revenues.”
Garcia said the proposed Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is an integrated system of smart meters, communication networks and data management systems that enables two way communications between utilities and customers.
“The system provides a number of important functions that were not previously possible or had to be performed manually, such as the ability to automatically and remotely measure electricity and water use, connect and disconnect service, detect tampering, identify and isolate outages and monitor voltage and water pressure,” he said.
He said the new system will benefit customers by reducing billing costs, giving customers more control over electricity and water consumption and enable remote connection and disconnection within hours instead of days.