One of the biggest complaints Newberry City Commissioner Jason McGehee gets from residents is high utility prices.
McGehee said residents voice that the prices prevent running the air conditioner, irrigation systems, and other household items.
“Their bill is sky high,” McGehee said. “They can’t figure that out.”
The city can’t do anything about utility prices, which are set by the Florida Municipal Power Agency, McGehee said. But the city is planning on allowing the utility provider to install a system that will help customers understand what is causing possible spikes month to month.
Often times, the commissioner said, billing from the utility company will take two to three weeks to process before it is mailed out.
When utility customers look at their bill, they often look at only the amount they have to pay now, not what time frame the charge is coming from — whether it be the previous month or two months ago.
McGehee said he is frequently asked by city residents, “Why am I paying so much for my power?”
To combat this problem of delayed billing, the Newberry city commission is planning to vote to approve the utility provider installing an advanced metering infrastructure, or AMI.
The AMI will allow customers to see what they are paying per day (though not in real time) instead of seeing the sum on a paper bill a month or months later, McGehee said. The results will be posted online.
“It gives the consumer a tool to be able to control how much they spend,” McGehee said.
McGehee said that people are often not aware of how much of their utilities they’re using and that this AMI would help solve the issue. Brenda King, who is a current resident of Newberry and has lived there since July, recently got a bill that costs $142.
“I thought I was being careful, not using too much water, not using too many lights,” King said. “But still, my bill was $142.”
The AMI program is being proposed by the Florida Municipal Power Agency, which is offering to do so for all 17 of the cities it provides power for. Other cities include Alachua, Ocala and Starke.
According to Newberry City Manager Mike New, the AMI monitors water, electric and natural gas usage. But the technology behind it is not a recent invention, he said.
“The metering industry has been transitioning this way probably since the 1980s,” New said.
One of the first steps to the transition is the installation of an automatic meter reading system, which adds a radio transmitter to meters and allows the meters send out daily usage data, according to New.
With the transmitters, the city — which handles the utilities billing — would be able to collect data every 15 minutes for electric meters and every hour for water meters. That information would then be available for the customer online to track, for example, excessive water and electric usage.
“It gives a utility provider the ability to have real-time information on customer usage and evaluate and track that usage, and determine whether there may be particular issues and where there’s areas of improvement,” said Newberry Utilities Director Jamie Jones. “It also gives the customer real-time access to what their usage is.”
Jones said it’s easy for customers to consume more water than they realized.
The average retail price of electricity in Newberry is 13.81 cents per kilowatt-hour (or kWh), according to the US Energy Information Administration. The national average is 13.19 cents per kWh.
Aaron Rowicki, an employee at ACE Hardware in Newberry, used to live in a mobile home in Newberry, but now lives in Gilchrist County. He said his utility prices in Gilchrist County are lower than in Newberry, and said the lower utilities were an added bonus to his move seven years ago.
Rowicki said that an AMI could be good for the town.
“Any form of communication, I imagine, would be a good thing,” Rowicki said.
Ocala, Lakeland and Orlando also utilize AMIs, according to New. In addition, private companies such as Florida Power & Light Company and Duke Energy utilize AMIs.
“I wouldn’t say that it is commonplace in the industry, but it’s definitely headed that way,” New said. “The city of Tallahassee is a champion.”
Although nothing has officially been decided yet, McGehee believes the chances of Newberry installing an AMI are good.