Petersburg’s North Harbor (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s borough assembly Friday approved a contract for replacing electric meters in North Harbor. The new meters will no longer require an electric department employee to read that service information in person. Instead hookup, usage and disconnection information will be transmitted directly to the municipal building. The borough is looking into whether that technology will work in the other harbors and may expand the program to other parts of town.

The contract is for purchase of 166 meters, along with the training and support to operate the new equipment. Utility director Karl Hagerman recommended the award to Eaton Corporation for just over 113,000 dollars. He explained how they would work.

“The meters that will be installed, they communicate with a collector unit through radio frequency,” Hagerman said. “A collector will be on the top of the municipal building and be tied into our utility billing system. And so every month, the monthly readings will be sent automatically to the municipal building and the utility billing department.”

Hagerman expected borough employees would do the actual installation. Some meters would also be installed in middle and south harbors to test whether that would also work. The borough’s existing meters are being phased out. And Hagerman explained that the smart meters will save staff time.

“In the summertime in the harbor a lot of people know we have a lot of traffic coming through,” he said. “Boats get hot-berthed in there, transient vessels all the time. They need power. And so every time one of those vessels ties up, somebody, a staff member from Power and Light has to walk down the dock get a reading, turn a meter on and sometimes in the summertime that can be 3-4 times a day. And so it’ll be a huge time savings just in that alone.”

Besides North Harbor, if the meters work in middle and south harbors they could be installed throughout those floats as well. And Hagerman expects these smart meters may be installed at homes and businesses on shore in the future.

The company provides software support for around 7000 dollars a year. Assembly member Kurt Wohlhueter questioned Hagerman about justifying that annual expense.

“You know I understand it’s going to save a little bit of time but if we’re only going to get 160 meters in there and we’re going into year two, I’m in that North Harbor, and all of a sudden we have an increase in harbor rates because I got 7000 dollars to split amongst the other 166 users, so, has it been tested in Alaska or are we the first?” Wohlhueter asked.

“It has actually. This system is in place in Ketchikan,” Hagerman responded. “They use it in Ketchikan. They use it in Anchorage; there has been an installation up there,” he said.

Brandi Marohl questioned if the change over would allow the borough eventually to eliminate the meter reader position but Hagerman did not think that was the case. He explained water meters still need to be read and thought there are fewer benefits to switching over to smart metering for water service.

Assembly member Jeff Meucci supported the contract.

“I mean I think we get the opportunity to eliminate somebody walking down there and doing this work if we can kind of, if we have the capability to kind of do it electronically,” Meucci said. “This bodes well for not just the harbor, but I think it bodes well for the rest of the community. I think there’s other spots that, we’ll definitely have to go and physically deal with stuff, but if there’s a way to eliminate somebody from walking down there and dealing with stuff, they might still have to go down but I think it’s a good step and I’m voting for it.”

The vote was 4-0 to approve the contract with Eaton. Three other companies also submitted proposals. The assembly in April gave the OK to negotiate with Eaton, the lowest cost of the four proposals.

The assembly also voted to hold meetings this summer on Thursdays, sticking with the schedule of one at noon and one at 6 p.m. each month. The mayor and assembly think there’s a better chance of having four members present required to take any action with the meetings later in the week. That accommodates several on the assembly who work in the commercial fishing industry. The next meeting date falls on Thursday, July 4th and could be moved to July 5th or cancelled.