Berlin To Issue RFP For Smart Meter Installation

Berlin To Issue RFP For Smart Meter Installation
One of the town's new smart meters is pictured. Submitted image.

BERLIN– Smart meters should be monitoring water usage at homes in Berlin by this fall.

The Berlin Town Council voted unanimously this week to proceed with issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for smart meter installation. Meters should be in place this fall.

“Bids will be due on May 4,” said Jamey Latchum, the town’s director of water resources. “Usually there’s about a 30-day grace period. It’s a 120-day contract after that.”

Last year, the town agreed to spend close to $800,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to purchase smart meters. The decision came after a study by the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project (SERCAP) revealed that the town was losing about $200,000 a year in water revenue because the town’s meters didn’t read accurately enough.

Latchum told officials this week the town now had nearly all of the new meters in its possession. He said his department was now ready to issue an RFP to find someone to install the meters. He acknowledged that while the installation was set as a 120-day process, issues would likely come up during installation.

“The heart of the town is older infrastructure,” he said. “There’s going to be delays.”

While it will be relatively easy for crews to switch out the meters in the newer developments like Decatur Farms, Latchum said the process would be more involved at the historic homes in town.

“Decatur Farms, Henry’s Mill, Henry’s Green, they could go in there and knock out 50 to 100 a day,” he said.

Councilman Jay Knerr asked about notification procedures. Latchum said there wasn’t a specific plan in place yet but said officials would work hard to ensure everyone was aware of what was taking place. Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said a mass notification could be included in utility bills and the town’s CodeRed emergency notification system could also be used.

“If people would sign up for CodeRed, this is the perfect time,” Latchum said.

He stressed that the new meters would benefit both the town and residents. With the new meters, leaks can be identified within hours because town staff will see the abrupt increase in water usage.

“I’m not saying we want to be big brother and watch your water usage,” Latchum said. “Right now if there’s water leaks it’s 30 days until you realize it. This can be done in a day now. You’re saving the town water, you’re saving yourself a lot of money. Some of the money’s not recoupable. If it goes down your sewer, you still have to pay for your sewer.”

He explained that currently, customers were billed for usage by 1,000 gallon levels. If someone uses 800 gallons, they’re billed for 1,000 gallons. If someone uses 1,900 gallons, they’re also billed for 1,000 gallons because they haven’t yet reached the next threshold. The smart meters will measure actual usage.

“We feel it’s going to even out,” Latchum said.

He said his department would eventually recommend a water rate restructuring but not until the smart meters had been in place for some time.

“We feel we need six months to a year under our belt before we can ask for a water rate restructure,” he said.

Mayor Zack Tyndall said the town was following the SERCAP recommendations.

“That’s going to make it more equitable across the board… and we’re using the ARPA funds to correct something that’s really broken,” he said.

Officials encouraged Latchum to ensure the public was kept informed as the installation process moved closer.

“We’ll identify a window of time at which the meters will be replaced,” Tyndall said. “We would try to isolate those areas of town the best we possibly can to provide advanced warning to those homes. We’re going to also as we’re pushing this out advise folks they should be on CodeRed.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.