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Automation to phase out Austin Utilities meter readers

By Karen Colbenson

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

In the next 10 years, customers of Austin Utilities will no longer need to let meter readers into their homes.

Beginning in 2008, automatic water meter readers will be installed gradually in homes that receive water services from the utility company.

Jerry McCarthy, general manager of AU, said a total of about 11,000 automatic water readers will need to be installed. Completing installation in every home in the service area will likely take about 10 years. There is no cost to the customer.

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About 800 of the readers and 100 modules are budgeted to be installed in area homes in 2008, and is estimated to cost $188,000. Additional meters will be installed each year as allotted by the budget.

Automatic meter readings for electricity usage are being utilized already, but because water meters are usually located in basements, McCarthy said it would cut out the need for meter readers to have to get into someone’s home to track water usage. With the automatic readers, meter readers can simply stroll by the house with a radio device to get the needed usage information.

McCarthy said they have not yet determined in what area of the city installation will begin.

Also slated in the 2008 capital budget is about $1.3 million in electric, water and natural gas extension and replacement lines, in conjunction with several city projects, including a $2.2 million construction project for the Oakland Avenue underpass.

Three bridges over the underpass will be removed along with the existing Oakland Avenue East road from First Street to Fourth Street. The road will be widened and rebuilt into a natural slope. Work on the underpass is expected to begin in spring 2008.

AU will install new lines before taking out the old lines, so customers won’t be affected, said McCarthy. Because of the expense of tearing out streets, Austin Utilities follows the city during street rebuilding projects.

"All of our projects are dictated by city street projects," said McCarthy.

AU is also expecting to do underground work in 2008 at Murphy Creek, a housing development located in Northwest Austin, and at the Austin Municipal Airport.

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The Austin Utilities 2008 capital budget totals $2.7 million in net expenditures. The Austin Utilities board approved the budget Tuesday at a monthly board meeting.

Austin Utilities in non-profit, community-owned utility company whose dollars are generated through rates.

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