Smart meter vendors struggle with US city-level government

Siemens in local wrangle over water meters
A Jackson city official reportedly found a Siemens water meter reading in gallons instead of cubic feet

In the US, Siemens has found itself caught in a wrangle with municipal government as it seeks to deploy water meters in the city of Jackson, Mississippi.

Siemens was half-way through a replacement of 65,000 water meters when the Director of Public Works ordered meter installations to be stopped amid consumer concerns over larger than normal water bills, report local media.

In February 2015, a City official found a water meter reading reported in gallons. However, because the City bills customers in cubic feet, the mix-up could have led to higher bills, although the bill discrepancies could be related to any number of issues, the report said.

Siemens and the City have since held a series of workshops to identify and address project challenges and establish improved communication and public-information outreach efforts.

Siemens has now secured the go-ahead from the Mayor’s office to resume the rollout, which is valued at US$91 million, on 1 June and has agreed to “a process to reimburse water customers for proper claims associated with faulty meter installations”.

Local smart meter concerns

Vice president and chairman of the Budget Committee Melvin Priester Jr. said he’s still reviewing information from Siemens and the Mayor’s office.

Mr Priester said he recently spent two hours on the phone trying to help a woman who received two inexplicable US$400 water bills after getting a new water meter.

He said: “Until I stop having constituents coming to my office with problems, then I can’t say I’m comfortable.”

In 2012, the Jackson City Council approved the agreement for 65,000 new water meters as well as various sewer projects, which the city paid for by raising bonds.

The bulk of the total cost, approximately $65 million, went toward the water meters. The other $26 million was allocated to upgrades the City to make in order to comply with a US Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit against Jackson for discharging sewage into the Pearl River.

Smart meter in Memphis

Meanwhile, Memphis Light, Gas, & Water (MLGW) is battling to pass a US$240 million smart meter implementation plan past the Memphis City Council.

MLGW wants to buy more than 1 million smart meters from German Elster Solutions.

The utility plans to replace most of the analogue meters on its grid now with the digital smart meters.

MLGW would install about 50,000 meters every four months with the project completing by 2020.

A smart meter team from MLGW presented its plan before the council’s MLGW committee on last week and were met with concerns over Elster using “their own people” and not giving jobs to locals, as well as the US$240 million cost of the rollout.