Madison is considering installing a new water and electric metering system that it estimates could lead to new revenue and savings totaling more than $600,000 a year by ensuring everyone is billed fairly and making the utility system more efficient by monitoring usage remotely and on an hourly basis.
But the proposal also could spark concerns about hackers, the effects of radio frequencies that transmit the utility data, and increased bills for people who have been underpaying due to old, faulty meters, officials said.
Some residents also might be concerned about the amount of new, real-time information the borough will have, along with, potentially, the ability to remotely control the flow of electricty to households.
"Will Big Brother be controling all your appliances and your toaster and things like that?" assistant borough administrator Jim Burnet said, letting Madison's governing body know one of the concerns that could be raised by residents. "There will be people who will say that. That's all going to be voluntarily and that's all down the road."
Burnet said residents could opt out of having data transmitted by radio if they were concerned about the frequencies, but there would still be new meters that read usage hourly and there likely would be a surcharge to have someone sent to read the meter instead of having data sent remotely.
Primarily, the benefit would come from having all new meters installed in the borough that will accurately read the amount of water and electric being used by residents. A consultant hired by the borough, Curtis Wilson, estimates there could be some $500,000 a year in water and energy usage that isn't paid for because of old, slow meters, bad connections, tampering or other issues.
The estimate includes a 10 percent increase in revenue from water, and a 1 percent increase in revenue from electric, $228,000 and $224,000, respectively.
Information about the proposed AMI, or Advanced Metering Infrastructure, was presented in a report to the Borough Council at its June 11. The presentation was given by Burnet, Wilson and Jim Sanderson, director of technology for the borough, and is available in the video recording of the meeting.
An informal public information about the borough electric utility is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, at .
The new system is expected to cost at least $2 million, and the borough was expected to receive proposals from companies to get a better idea of what the costs would be. It estimates maintaining the system could cost about $50,000 a year, which would be offset by other savings.
Sanderson said Madison would no longer need to have people driving around reading meters once the new system is in place.
"Basically, we'll be able to read the meters right from the offices here" and the system would give a "much higher level of detail," he said.
"Instead of getting a reading of what you consumed over the past month," it would show usage "hour by hour, day by day," Sanderson said.
That opens the possibility of notifying residents about leaky faucets, or supplemental heaters left running on screened porches, they said.
Other savings would be derived by having different rates for summer and winter, day and night—in the same way the borough buys its electricity at different rates depending on demand.
Having additional data will allow the borough to ensure its system is optimally efficient in other, more technical ways.
"It's a big deal," Wilson said. "It's one of the big reasons that these systems pay back because they actually make things more efficient."
The system also would give the utility a better way of knowing what homes lost power during a storm, and allow them to go about restoring power more efficiently.
"That's better customer service, but that's also more energy that's sold to those residents because their power is back up sooner," Burnet said.
Burnet said they expect the new system would allow the borough to reduce the number of part-time meter readers and convert the full-time meter reading position to a data and system management and metering maintenance and replacement position. The automated system would reduce the amount of data written out by hand and transcribed.
In response to a question from Council President Jeannie Tsukamoto about whether hackers could shut off power to the borough to the system, they said the system would be no more vulnerable than it is now.
Madison is two years into a supplemental tax on water bills that sunsets after five years and is raising $1 million for the project.
Burnet said he expects the new system would affect his water bill because he lives in a home with an older meter.
"I'm sure that there's water getting through my meter that's not getting measured," he said. "Correctly metering people will make it fair for all."