Westerville moved a step closer to its goal of implementing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) for its water and electric divisions last week.

Westerville moved a step closer to its goal of implementing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) for its water and electric divisions last week.

Westerville City Council approved a $10.43-million bond package at its Feb. 15 meeting. Of that, $4.1-million is earmarked for the purchase of digital electric and water meters, or "smart meters" for the city's commercial and industrial utility consumers, and the infrastructure and software needed to support the meters.

The four separate pieces of bond legislation approved by council included the issuance of $5.8-million in bonds for the Electric Division, to fund the smart meters and their infrastructure, new manholes, conduit and streetlights; $1.1-million to fund smart meters for the Water Division; $2.25-million for the city's annual street improvements; and $1.28-million to fund land acquisitions and improvements.

In September, council voted down installing smart meters for all water and electrical customers, turning down a $4.3-million federal grant for the $10.7-million cost, following public outcry against the overhaul.

At that time, members of council asked the city staff to look at ways to phase in advanced metering infrastructure, which would allow the city to read meters and detect outages digitally and allow consumers to monitor their utility consumption.

A handful of residents spoke to city council Feb. 15, once again asking council members to vote down advanced metering infrastructure.

Resident Tim Davy said the smart meters are too costly to be a smart decision for the city. He said the meters cost $240 apiece versus the $40 apiece the city pays for the old style of water and electric meters.

Davy also called a feasibility study on advanced metering infrastructure for the city "flawed," saying it would take longer for Westerville to reap the financial benefits of the meters than the study claims.

"The smart meters are way too expensive," Davy said.

Rod Clay said he was grateful that city council listened to residents last fall and voted the smart meters down. However, the new phase-in plan is still too aggressive, Clay said, citing city staff comments that it would not be feasible for Westerville to maintain two metering systems - smart meters for businesses and the existing system for residences - for more than five years.

"If this is plan B, it also is far too ambitious and aggressive and premature," Clay said.

Chuck Voigt said it is disingenuous of council to pass funding for the system now when they voted against the meters last fall.

"You guys are actually pretty slick," Voigt said. "It's obviously a foregone conclusion. It looks like you're just trying to keep up appearances and go through the process."

Councilman Craig Treneff cast the only no-vote for the bonds that would fund smart meters, saying he still thinks the issue is too divisive to the community.

"I voted to withdraw the ordinance last year because I felt it had the potential to divide the city," Treneff said. "A program like AMI needs public support. My concern is that we're still a little premature because I'm not sure that we have enough public acceptance of the program at this time."

Other city council members said they believe advance metering infrastructure makes sense because it helps consumers control their costs by monitoring their energy use, and, they said, it would allow the water and electric divisions to provide better service by helping them to pinpoint power outages or surges in water use that would expose a leaky fixture in someone's house.

"I do think it works from a dollars-and-cents standpoint," Councilman Eric Busch said.

Council still will have to vote on legislation for the purchase and implementation of the system, which the city staff is expected to bring forth in April.

If that is approved, the city would begin installing the meters in August for Westerville's 3,500 commercial and industrial customers, and for up to 500 residential volunteers who fall within the service area.

Council chairman Mike Heyeck said he thinks approaching commercial and industrial customers and residential volunteers first would allow the system to pilot the advanced metering system and phase it in.

"This implementation is truly a pilot. We don't want to be too aggressive in implementation," Heyeck said. "It's trying out something that's probably going to take us years to implement."