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Smart meters a ‘poster child’ project

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After being in operation for about a year, the city’s smart water meters should allow the city to pay off its investment in about 11 years, the contractor for the project said.

Colby Geer, president of Yearout Energy, gave a final report on the $20 million project to the city’s Infrastructure Committee at its Nov. 23 meeting.

The installation of more than 19,000 state-of-the-art water meters was completed in October 2019, Geer said, and has attracted attention.

“It is a poster child project that has been used, not by name but by scope, for many discussions and presentations on how to run a water division,” he said.

“The process we followed to develop this project is one that has been followed with multiple projects in the state of New Mexico. The whole thing is overseen by Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the office of the state engineer,” he said.

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Geer outlined the timeline of the project for the committee, starting in 2014 when Yearout Energy created a baseline of water use and production for the city at about 3.7 million to 4 million kilogallons — or a thousand gallons — annually.

“What the city was metering at the time was 2.6 to 2.9 million kilo gallons for a total water loss resulting in 29% through the distribution system,” he said.

The company estimated that with the more accurate smart water meters, the city would see an increase in revenue of $816,000 for water and $345,000 for sewer. The smart meters allow for remote operation for reading and turning service on and off, which will give the city about $536,000 in operational savings from less vehicle use and the employee time previously spent reading meters.

The total savings to the city will be just under $1.7 million a year, Geer said.

“That calculates for a simple payback of 11.7 years on your investment with revenue generated from accuracy in the meters,” he said.

The city issued a $20 million bond for the project that is set to close out in 2037.

One of the challenges of the project was what Geer called a “full deployment” of remote disconnect valves that allow the meters to be read and turned off or on from a central location.

“It was one of the first times we had seen that done to the level it was done in Roswell,” Geer said. “Obviously with that, there’s additional technological integration and data management that had to go into place of that as well.”

He acknowledged that process didn’t go smoothly.

Customers saw delays in their billing as well as charges that were higher or lower than expected.

“A lot of that code and description of how the information would flow from the Itron system into your billing system and then ultimately down to the customer had to be worked out,” Geer said.

Itron is the technology company that manufactures the equipment and creates the software that transmits data from the smart meters to the city.

Making sure the meters would communicate the way the city wanted was also a challenge, he said. Typically, the information flows just one way, from the meter to infrastructure system, he said.

“But because of the remote disconnect valves, there was a big push to have that communication go two ways, from the infrastructure to the meter and the shutoff valve and also back to the infrastructure,” he said.

Yearout Energy and Itron continue to work with the city to make sure the systems are working properly, Geer said.

“We have a person at our office who is receiving information from your staff currently and has just started receiving information from year one,” he said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.