NEWBERRY ‒ In recent months the City of Newberry implemented a new program to help their customers more accurately monitor water and electric utility usage. The system, which is called Advance Metering Infrastructure, or AMI, can communicate with the City’s front office for more accurate meter reading while also communicating with the customer to help them monitor their usage.

“Results have been amazing,” said City Manager Mike New. “I have 39 years in the industry and this is clearly the best, most successful endeavor that I have ever been associated with.”

New shared information provided by Utility Customer Service Manager Tammy Snyder that highlights the success of the AMI program.

“We have had 534 contacts for leaks or high-water consumption for the period of Jan. 1, 2023 – Jan 1, 2024,” said Snyder. She said she only reaches out to customers three times. After the third notification Snyder discontinues notifying the customer until they reach out to the City.

“When a leak occurs, AMI enables us to become aware within hours so that we can advise our residents. Using traditional meter reading techniques, it typically takes 45 – 75 days for a leak to become apparent,” said Snyder. “During that period of time, we can waste a substantial amount of water and the customer incurs significant charges. AMI genuinely greatly helps our customers save money on their utility bills.”

Based on her observation, Snyder said 85 percent of the leak notifications are for leaking toilets and/or leaking irrigation systems. “There is a very small percentage of the remainder that are leaking meters (less than 2 percent) while the remainder are simply people using their irrigation systems or other legitimate usage, i.e., left a hose running, filling up a pool or left a spigot on.”

For customers who have experienced a water leak, there is help. For those who have legitimate leaks, the City requests the property owners bring in documentation indicating the leak has been fixed. With that information, the City credits the wastewater usage amount.

In the past, the City used a three-month average to “guess” the credit and it would take up to two months to get the customer a correction. “AMI provides us with more accurate information which we use to compare usage patterns and provide corrective bills in a timelier manner.”

As an example, Snyder mentioned a customer whose usage went from 5 kgal to 14 kgal, resulting in a bill increase of $167.51 for the month. Unfortunately, the leak was gradual, so it did not reach the threshold for the City to catch it.

“When the customer came to pay her bill she questioned why her bill had increased so much,” Snyder said. “Upon investigation, we determined she had a leak and provided her with the blue dye tablets to check her toilets,” said Snyder. “The customer called and reported she checked her toilets, and they were not leaking. We did some other trouble shooting and ended up sending crews to check the meter. It was determined the meter was not leaking.”

Snyder said the customer had a plumber come out who found the leak and made a repair. “The customer provided the plumber’s receipt on Feb. 5 and a corrective bill was created within an hour,” said Snyder. “The customer now has a credit of $42.46, which is huge because this customer is on disability and only gets paid once a month.”

“Ultimately, we did it [implemented AMI] to benefit our residents, so that they could make decisions that would save them money and serve them better,” said New. “It’s been amazingly successful so far, and we plan to build on our system for bigger and better services for our customers.”

The AMI installation began in May 2022 and was completed in September 2022.

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