Port Angeles moves ahead with ‘smart meter’ consultant contract
By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Council members voted 6-1 Tuesday, with Councilwoman Sissi Bruch opposed, to approve the contract with Chicago-based West Monroe Partners.
About a dozen people were in the audience at City Hall.
Under the agreement, the technology consulting firm will assess the city’s ongoing advanced metering infrastructure project, also called AMI or smart meters, and determine what exactly has caused the project to be delayed for more than a year.
The report detailing the problems and how to address them — with associated costs — is expected by the end of November.
West Monroe Partners then would develop multiple ways to move forward, which city staff has said could include stopping the project altogether.
The $5.4 million project would replace the city’s roughly 10,500 electric and water meters with devices that can be read wirelessly and receive instructions from city utility staff.
The installation process has been delayed by software integration issues between the city and Massachusetts-based Mueller Systems, the city’s contractor on the project.
“Staff has concerns our AMI contractor Mueller doesn’t have the ability to adequately resolve the outstanding issues,” City Manager Dan McKeen said.
In casting the lone no vote, Bruch said she was not satisfied with the options West Monroe Partners representatives had said they would provide and said the cost was too high.
“I agree we need to figure out what to do,” Bruch said.
“I don’t believe [West Monroe Partners] is the right consultant for it.”
Bruch said she was not convinced the consulting firm could provide an unbiased look at options for replacing the city’s meters that did not include smart meters.
Additionally, Bruch said she was not sure the city’s smart meter project should move forward at all.
“I would propose we just scrap AMI right now because I really, truly don’t believe we can afford this,” Bruch said, receiving applause from some members of the audience.
Last month, opponents of the city’s smart-meter program nearly the filled the seats of council chambers to express concerns over the safety of the meters and the privacy of their personal information.
On Oct. 8, the city Utility Advisory Committee recommended the contract, cut from its original amount, after the council, following intense discussion, sent it to the panel for review Oct. 1.
Craig Fulton, city public works and utilities director, said city staff were able to work with West Monroe Partners to reduce the not-to-exceed contract amount from $99,000 to $86,500.
“We’ve gone back to West Monroe and renegotiated their costs and reduced [them] about 13 percent from the original proposal,” Fulton said.
Fulton said the savings were attained mostly through reductions in travel expenses for West Monroe Partners staff.
Fulton said the city’s meters need to be modernized eventually, adding that West Monroe Partners would provide information city staffers don’t have about what to do next.
“I don’t see [the contract] as cost,” Fulton said.
“I see it as an investment in the project to make sure we have a long-term solution to modernize our entire system.”
Councilman Patrick Downie asked Fulton whether the public can expect a honest evaluation of the project and a fair presentation of alternatives.
Fulton said the options West Monroe Partners will present will be key.
“It might not be moving forward [with smart meters],” he said. “It might be some other path to modernizing our system.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: October 16. 2013 7:02PM