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Refusing a new smart water meter will soon come at a price

The city’s rollout of new smart water meters has hit a slight hiccup as a result of some users refusing the devices, which will soon begin costing them $50 per month to make up the expense of having someone drive out to continue to manually read their outdated water meter
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A new smart water meter similar to the ones currently being installed for all users of the city’s water utility.

Although behind schedule due to COVID-related delays, the city’s rollout of new smart water meters is still expected to be completed by the end of the year.

A new substantial completion date of Dec. 23 has been set, with much of the incomplete portion of the installations likely coming as a result of those property owners who have refused the devices.

Approximately 1,275 property owners have issued “soft refusals,” city director of water/wastewater treatment and compliance Michael Loken told local media after tonight’s city council meeting. 

Some of these people are beginning to reschedule visits to have the new water meters installed as their COVID-related health concerns ease.

Meanwhile, there are 10 property owners who have issued “hard refusals,” Loken said, describing them as “people that have absolutely refused under any circumstance to get a meter and have indicated that they will maintain that refusal.”

In addition to some people expressing COVID-related concerns about having people enter their homes and buildings to install the devices, some have also been fearful of the smart meters themselves.

“We have had a number of concerns raised about the potential for health effects from the radio signals,” Loken said. “I always find it ironic when people call from their cell phones to register those complaints to us.”

Those who continue to refuse the new water meters will soon face a monthly fee of $50, which city manager of growth and infrastructure Tony Cecutti described as a “reasonable administration cost that’s associated with additional work that wasn’t expected.”

During tonight’s city council meeting it was noted that having someone physically read a scattering of meters throughout the city will become more labour-intensive and therefore costly per meter than it currently is.

Also during the meeting, Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti shared the concern of a resident who declined to have a smart water meter installed in their home due to COVID-related safety concerns and were cautioned that they might soon have to pay the $50 monthly fee. 

“That leaves a little sour taste with the resident,” Signoretti said, describing this as a “harsh measure to take.”

All of the employees entering homes to install the water meters have been fully vaccinated, Loken said, and place residents’ health and well-being as a “foremost priority.”

Incidents such as this are classified as “soft refusals,” and residents can escalate their concerns to management to ensure their health and safety concerns are addressed “in the most responsible way possible.” 

Approximately 11,000 of the new meters have been installed thus far, with 48,400 expected to be installed by the end of the year for all of the municipality’s residential, industrial, commercial and institutional accounts.

The devices replace traditional water meters, and unlike the aging meters they replace can be read remotely on a near real-time basis, which will effectively do away with most in-person meter readings.

Those people in Wards 10, 12, 1 and 11 to have already received the new meters will be able to log into their accounts online within the next few weeks to see their latest water-use information from as recent as the previous day. By early summer, Loken said the system will have been fine-tuned to the point where customers can access data as recent as the previous hour.

The new smart water meters are also expected to allow water bills to be sent to 98 per cent of customers within three business days of the end of the billing period based on actual meter readings. 

In addition to helping users detect water leaks more quickly, deputy mayor and Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer said the city will be able to better achieve their Community Energy and Emissions Plan environmental goals, which he described as an important follow-through action after city council declared a climate emergency in 2019. 

“Water and wastewater plants are high-energy users, so by implementing this system … we’ll be able to detect and reduce that leakage and spillage,” he said. 

Plus, Loken added that users will be able to “make better and more informed decisions about their usage.”

In addition to saving energy costs, Loken said it will help prevent chlorine from leaking into the watershed, which he said can reduce oxidation levels in water which can affect aquatic life.

In a June 2019 municipal report that advocated for the smart meters, it’s noted that the city’s existing water meters had “reached their useful life expectancy and should be replaced at an estimated cost of $10.2 million,” and that replacing them with smart meters instead of like meters would cost an additional $7 million.

“The project has a payback of 10.2 years, so over the expected asset life, the benefits of this project exceed financial costs by a significant amount and are also greater than simply maintaining the status quo,” according to the municipal report of the day.

The city is expected to issue public notification about how to access online meter readings, as well as the new $50 monthly administrative fee for those who refuse smart water meters, within the next few weeks. 

In addition to receiving an update on the new smart water meters during tonight’s city council meeting, the city’s elected officials voted to approve a few service agreements to make the project a reality. 

Although city council and members of the public were invited to attend tonight’s city council meeting in person for the first time since the pandemic began, only Sizer, Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier and Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland opted to participate at Tom Davies Square, with most opting to attend virtually. Mayor Brian Bigger did not attend due to what Sizer described as an “urgent family matter,” and Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini was not in attendance. No members of the public attended. 

More information about the city’s new smart water meters, including how to book an installation, can be found on the city’s website by clicking here.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.