Stephen NeesProbably best known for being home to Disneyland, the city of Anaheim is the regional hub for Orange County. Serving a population of roughly 340,000 people, the City of Anaheim Public Utilities Department strives to serve its customers with a blend of sophisticated technology and intrepid innovation. Smart Energy International interviewed Stephen Nees, Technology Development Manager, Public Utilities Department, City of Anaheim

Please start by telling us a bit about yourself.
Stephen Nees: I received a Bachelors in Psychology followed by a MBA. Then I worked in Federal Government – within Social Security in fact. After that there was a dramatic change as I joined a large US telecoms company, based in their IT department, and then I worked in the automobile industry. After that I joined AAA, which is very much a customer service organization. There I was the supervisor for their non-mainframe IT projects, with the move in the early 1990s from a single LAN to multiple-LAN. I was also involved in the development of their custom Graphic User Interface that integrated access to multiple systems. I moved to Fox Networks as their director of technical services – an extremely productive role that eventually led me into consulting for a few years. I then found myself working for the City of Anaheim Utilities Department, heading up all their IT initiatives.  

Give a brief history and a current overview of the utility.
SN: The City of Anaheim is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The water utility was started in 1879 and the electric utility in 1895. We have always been a municipal utility for both electric and water, with natural gas supplied to our city by SoCalGas. We have about 110,000 electric meters, 95,000 residential and 15,000 commercial.  The commercial meters account for over 70% of consumption and revenue.

What are some of the key challenges your utility faces?
SN: I would say putting together our MDM system. In early October we received approval to go ahead with the MDM and AMI programs. We will begin deploying AMR meters and building our AMI infrastructure. With this in mind, our key concern is the financial impact of these programs.

Please give us an overview of your utility’s metering operations.
SN: We will be installing four to six thousand smart meters within the next two years. We are building a core infrastructure now so that if legislation demands it, we will be ready for a quick mass rollout.

What plans do you have in place for implementing AMI, and what do you think are the key benefits?
SN: We see MDMS as the core of AMI, being useful for more than billing. To be honest, if we were only doing billing then manual meter reading is very effective and very cost-effective. But the MDMS has benefits when you start talking about linking to outage management and to your asset management system. And there are also a number of other uses, particularly on the engineering side, like moving towards a smart grid. We have a sophisticated SCADA environment and we will actually be tying the outage management system that is currently tied to our SCADA environment to our MDMS as well. The first phase is basically getting the meter data into our customer information system to support billing, to maintain our inventories and keep track of things. The second phase is the integration into the GIS (geospatial information system), the outage management and the asset management systems. And this is where we think the long-term benefits will be for us.

A little farther out, we are planning on using the MDMS with its repository capabilities to present information directly to the customer through the internet. We have introduced a residential TOU program, which needs smart meters. We are also planning to use the AMI infrastructure for some of our demand response programs. Programmable thermostats are becoming widely available and load control devices can be controlled through the meter systems, such as a currently available remote connect/disconnect feature.

From the environmental perspective, we expect we will save between 24,000 and 28,000 vehicle trips every year at full deployment. We are using RF mesh-enabled systems, although we will look at alternatives in a high rise environment. And this is where the MDMS comes in – if we need to bring in a third type of system, we can just add it on. It creates a lot more flexibility.

We are planning to start placing our first meters in late February 2008; by the end of the second quarter in 2009 we should have between 4000 and 6000 meters operational. What happens after that will depend on a mix of things – legislation, regulation, and the fact that we are trying to avoid making mistakes. Our goal is to be as cost-effective as possible, continuing to reward our customers with reduced rates.

What strategies have you implemented to strengthen your relationship with customers?
SN: We try to be as forward-looking as possible, while staying within the constraints of providing a high quality service at a fair price. For example we installed a completely underground substation, beneath a local park – the first of its type in the United States.

We also conducted a project at a local police station and community center using a natural gas fuel cell to power the entire facility, with any excess power being returned to the grid. A similar project was sponsored at the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, with the installation of photovoltaic windows that help generate power for the center. There are also displays for the kids to understand how electricity is generated and distributed. We have also contracted some biomass energy, and over time this percentage will grow as technology improves. We also use geothermal and wind power, as well as natural gas generated power.

How do you manage customers who steal energy?

SN: Our department is very effective when it comes to prosecuting energy thieves. Then again, one of the things you give up with AMI is the eyes in the field, the meter readers walking their routes. But AMI will allow us to know immediately when a meter is tampered with, and during the process of smart meter deployment, we are likely to uncover more cases.

What is the vision for your utility?
SN: Simply put, we will continue to offer a very high quality of service through the use of technology at an affordable price. We are also concerned with reducing our environmental impact and so we are investing in renewable resources as well as increasing our percentage of natural gas combined cycle generation to reduce carbon footprint. We are in the process of getting approvals for building a 150 MW baseload plant within the city, adding to the 50 MW plant we currently run for peak loads.
 
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