An interview with Walter Koopman and Sandra Arnold


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 Walter Koopman and Sandra Arnold

Sandra Arnold and Walter Koopman

Please tell us something about your careers.

Walter – In January 2000 I began working for the City as a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) technician. In 2001 I became the Wireless IS manager, responsible for SCADA and AMR systems.
Sandra – I was contracted in 1997 by the city when they started the AMR system. When the city bought the system I moved here, starting off as a contract worker and then becoming permanent. The city officially took over the contract in 2001. 

How did you both become involved in the utility industry?

Walter – I worked for 17 years in the oil and gas industry in automation and SCADA – my SCADA experience allowed me to move to the Austin area. I am originally from the coastal areas of Texas.
Sandra – I started off as office manager and started working on the systems in 1999. I was a backup and knew how the systems worked.

Please give us a brief history and current overview of your utility.

We started operations in Georgetown in 1883, and today we are technically a municipal utility system. There are about 18,300 electric customers, of which 98.5% are read by AMR. In water there are 17,900 billed customers; 96% are ERT and read by AMR. Most of the old meters have been retrofitted, but there is a struggle to meet demand in terms of installing new meters. The reason for this is lack of staffing, plus the fact that over half the meters are in construction phase and are not ready yet.

Georgetown is rolling out 1000 meters per year in water and electric for new customers. It is a huge challenge to meet this demand.

How has deregulation impacted your utility and your customers?

Deregulation hasn’t affected us as such, however we stay informed and abreast and try to keep our systems to prepare to deregulate if necessary. Deregulation has changed our electric control center.

There was a competitive metering taskforce put together as part of the deregulation process and this did help.

What are some of the key challenges your utility faces?

Our challenge is to meet the demands of new customers, as we are a suburb of Austin and the city is growing. There are also plans for a toll road around Georgetown, so this is going to increase our growth rate too.

If you bear in mind that a high proportion of Texans lives within 50 miles of the I35, you can appreciate this is a huge growth area.

Georgetown has an aging AMR system (it was set up in 1996) so we were one of the early adopters and were Itron’s only fixed network on water on their first generation side. Itron had three major customers on their first generation fixed electric network, and Georgetown became the mixed one. 

In 2001 we added the mobile collector for several reasons – mainly because of the growth rate and the cost of expanding the fixed network. The mobile collector was an economical way to read, and it also gave back-up in case of failure of the fixed network.

How are meters read?

We process all the fixed network reads and then load the mobile collector with ERT meters that were not read by the fixed network. After both of these systems have processed the AMR reads we send our meter reader out to do a manual read on non-ERT meters and failed ERT meters. The AMR department is responsible for the whole process and provides this data to our utility billing department.

Utility billing is separate – it falls under the finance department. Meter reads are distributed to them and they also handle connects and disconnects, which are done manually. Customers are billed monthly, and in the last few months we have introduced an online service for bill payments.

What procedures do you follow when doing upgrades/replacements?

We monitor consumption data and prepare abnormal reads; when these occur we have people go out and have a look at the problem. 

What is your vision for your utility?

We need to stay current with AMR technology, provide meter data to our customers and use this meter data to improve our utility operations. We are working with Itron for the next generation of our AMR systems.

The goal is to read all the meters with one meter reader, as well as being able to support the total AMR operation and our two AMR technicians. 

Our biggest challenge is the aging system, and growth in customer numbers.