Westerville City Council agreed last week to accept a $4.3-million federal grant that puts the community one step closer to implementing smart grid technology.

Westerville City Council agreed last week to accept a $4.3-million federal grant that puts the community one step closer to implementing smart grid technology.

The grant will be used to help offset the cost of new digital electric meters.

The resolution, approved April 20 by a 6-0 vote, also authorizes City Manager Dave Collinsworth to seek bids for the meters. Mayor Kathy Cocuzzi was absent from the meeting.

Electric utility manager Andrew Boatright told council members they must accept the grant in order for Westerville to move forward with the project.

"Fifty percent of the 100 grants have been awarded, with the remaining balance to be awarded by month's end, including Westerville, if we elect to receive it," Boatright said.

The process of seeking bids must begin now to stay on track to implement the hardware for the system within three years, he said.

The technology would allow remote metering of energy use and automated reporting of outages. It also would eventually allow consumers to monitor their energy consumption in real time, giving them the opportunity to make choices about how much they use and when they use it, Boatright said.

Vice Mayor Anne Gonzales expressed reservations about moving forward with the project without knowing whether Westerville residents support it.

"I don't have a problem accepting the grant at all," Gonzales said. "What I have a problem with is authorizing the city manager to seek the bids when I don't even know if this is something our residents want."

Westerville resident Joy Gross spoke at the beginning of the April 20 council meeting, questioning the pros and cons of creating a digital metering system including potential hidden costs and security risks.

"I just want to bring forward the concerns that this may have down the road," Gross said. "Are we thinking about this? Can we slow down?"

But Boatright's assurance that the Electric Division would initiate an aggressive education campaign to reach out to the public, plus additional opportunities to vote on whether to appropriate money toward the project later this year, convinced Gonazles to take the first step in voting for the measure.

Other council members expressed their support for the ordinance, since accepting the grant would help pay for 16,000 new digital meters, an up-and-coming technology.

"It's an evolving technology that's going to happen across the country with electric metering," Councilman Craig Treneff said. "We can either get in at the front end or we can bring up the rear."

The program is expected to cost a total of $10.7-million. The cost will be offset by the $4.3-million grant, a $1.15-million cost-share for software with a contracted company and the $2.5-million already being spent by the city on its fiber optics system.

The estimated cost to Electric Division is $2.7-million, which Boatright said would be financed over 20 years, passing on a cost of less than 1 percent to consumers.

Future votes surrounding the smart grid initiative are expected to come before council in June and July.