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GWP smart-meter fix almost done

Audit reveals the lack of a detailed testing strategy for implementation.

May 21, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com | By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

Since the massive rollout of roughly 120,000 digital utility meters that began in 2010, Glendale Water & Power officials now have just 53 of them to tweak, down from 919 in September of last year.

The drop comes about five months after the utility began billing all of its customers directly through the so-called smart meters, which replaced analog systems.

It also follows an internal audit that found 264 meters needed to be adjusted as of March. That means it took only two months for utility workers to cut down the number of meters that needed work by more than 75%.

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In an email, Glendale Water & Power General Manager Steve Zurn called it "significant progress."

The utility has been working on implementing the smart grid — a system that capitalizes on digital technology to reduce energy and water use — for more than two years. The $70-million project was partially subsidized by federal and state grants.

While most City Council members and Glendale Water & Power commissioners have praised the transition, smart meters still have their detractors. A small but vocal group of customers has complained that the radio frequency waves emitted by the digital devices make them sick, although officials say they have no more impact than a cellphone or microwave.

Those who want the transmission devices turned off must pay $35 to $56 a month. At least 35 customers have signed up for the opt-out fee, according to the city.

In addition to the complaints, the transition hasn't been the smoothest, according to an internal audit.

The audit found that the utility did not develop a detailed strategy for testing smart-meter implementation and could have reviewed the system's capability more efficiently.

"As per the audit report recommendation, we will be establishing and documenting a formalized testing procedure for upgrades and the first document will be completed by the end of next month," Zurn said. "We are still in the process of documenting the formal test process. I believe it is always prudent to have a formal testing process for all future upgrades."

Earlier internal audits have shown the need for better project management and contract details with companies working on the smart-grid rollout. And the utility had to request an extension from the U.S. Department of Energy — the provider of about $20 million in federal stimulus funding — to finish installing all the project components.

For next fiscal year, which begins in July, the utility plans to increase customer programs that use the data collected by the smart meters, according to a city report. The planned programs include online access to the data, mobile and tablet applications, and an expansion of a digital photo frame program that shows utility consumption in near real-time.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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