Wireless tech to help with utility billing

Published 8:14 pm Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The City of Bainbridge is changing the way it measures customers’ usage of gas, water and sewer services with the goal of improving accuracy and reducing employees’ workload.

During a presentation at the Bainbridge City Council’s Tuesday evening meeting, members of the city’s Utilities Division explained how they are replacing old meters that must be read by human eyes with ones that can transmit data to a laptop computer.

A contractor is currently about 75 percent complete replacing approximately 5,000 water meters and 800 gas meters with automated meters, said Paul Hicks, supervisor of the city’s meter reading department. The amount of water or natural gas flowing past the meters helps determine how much residents and businesses are charged on their monthly bills. Once the transition to an automated system is complete, Hicks will be able to travel throughout the city with a laptop which will wirelessly receive data from the new meters.

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The laptop will be capable of picking up signals from all the meters that are within its line of sight, meaning Hicks will be able to gather information from multiple street blocks at the same time as he travels, Utilities Director Ronnie Parish explained. Each residence or business is linked to a specific meter and will get “checked off” on a list. The process will significantly reduce the time it takes to read all of the meters’ usage, from about a month to just one week or less, using one person instead of four.

Customers probably won’t notice a change in the billing process, although in theory, their usage may be recorded more accurately since the potential of human error is greatly reduced, Parish said. The city will still have to manually check about 300 meters which measure water use for irrigation purposes, which were not replaced for cost reasons.

“We will still have someone available so that if a customer has an issue, we can send someone out to go look at a meter or answer any questions,” Parish said.

The automated metering system cost approximately $962,000, being paid for as part of a low-interest loan from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority. The loan is being repaid through sales tax receipts and future utility payments.