As it prepares for a rate hike on April 1, New York American water is also moving ahead with a $40.8 million plan to replace all of its 126,500 water meters in Nassau County with new smart meters that will monitor customers’ usage.
“New York American Water is excited to offer our customers near real-time water usage data, made possible by advanced metering infrastructure, so they can make informed water use decisions for their household,” said Lee Mueller, the utility’s external affairs manager.
The state Public Service Commission approved the plan last month, and it will continue after NYAW finalizes the sale of its Long Island service territory to Liberty Utilities, which will likely be over the summer. Work on replacing the meters was set to begin in May, but Mueller said it might be pushed back in light of the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, the utility will likely prioritize upgrading meters outside of homes to ensure the safety of its employees and customers, Mueller said. Customers will receive notices this month, and the replacements will be implemented through 2025.
The work will involve replacing automated meter reading technology, or AMR, with advanced metering infrastructure, or AMI, meters, which offer a more efficient technology, according to Mueller. The AMI meters are also more cost efficient, Mueller said, and will result in $5 million in operations savings. He added that AMI meters cost $1.2 million less to install than AMR meters. Most customers’ AMR meters were installed between 2001 and 2005.
The smart meters will track usage in real time throughout the day and use a cellular network to send automated alerts to customers about potential leaks, high usage or backflow through a cellular network. Encrypted data is logged in 15-minute intervals, collected and transmitted four times per day through radio frequency signals from the meters. Customers can access their personal water usage data through the customer portal. By comparison, AMR technology is a drive-by meter reading system that works on a low-power radio signal to deliver meter reads.
Mueller said there are no upfront charges to customers for the AMI installation, but the cost to deliver AMI technology will appear on their bills starting in August 2021 under the utility’s system improvement charge. He did not know how much it would cost individual customers.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, expressed his displeasure over the added charge. “Advanced metering is critical because the new rates punish greater usage, but people have to have some idea of how much water they are actually using in real time,” he said. “If the utility is comfortable with this rate structure, then they should also be comfortable with providing advanced metering with no cost to the customer.”
Mueller said that meter replacement is mandatory, and the utility and the PSC have decided that customers who opt-out of AMI will be provided with a digital non-communicating meter and assessed an associated monthly opt-out fee of $13.21 to cover the cost of a monthly meter reading. If they do opt-out, the customer will be required to make an appointment each month and allow a representative from NYAW to access their meter to capture the monthly meter read.
The utility is also getting set to implement a rate hike on April 1 for its 120,000 customers across Nassau County, ushering in the fourth year of its current rate case, which was approved by the PSC in May 2017 as a way to promote water conservation.
The rate increase for most of the company’s customers should be minimal, because many use about 8,000 gallons per month, according to a release by the utility. In the Lynbrook service area, bills for 8,000-gallon users will jump from about $66 to roughly $70 per month. In the Merrick region, bills will increase from roughly $50 to about $53, and in the Sea Cliff district, the average bills will spike from about $76 to $80.
In the Lynbrook service area, the first 3,000 gallons on April 1 will increase to just more than 49 cents per every 100 gallons, compared with 46 cents before the hike. The next 3,000 will cost 67.7 cents, up from 62.6 cents, while the next 9,000 gallons will jump to 97.2 cents from 90 cents for every 100 gallons. At the top tier, above 15,000 gallons, the cost jumps to $1.2849 from a current $1.1771 for every hundred gallons, according to the release.
The pending sale of NYAW to Liberty Utilities will also not impact the rate increases. In November, the company announced the $608 million sale to Liberty, a sub-utility of the Ontario-based Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp., which owns and operates water, wastewater and energy utilities in 14 states, serving over 800,000 customers. Liberty has vowed to freeze rate hikes through 2023 after the sale is complete.