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updated: 5/7/2014 12:32 AM

Sugar Grove takes settlement over faulty smart water meters

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Sugar Grove officials Tuesday accepted $64,375, to settle once and for all a vexing problem with water meters.

The money will be set aside to buy replacement meters in the next several years for some that have proven prone to short lives.

Severn-Trent Metering Services Ltd. will pay the cash.

The village bought more than 3,400 Severn-Trent smart water meters in the early to mid-2000s, and installed them on existing homes and all new homes through at least 2006. The meters had a 10-year guarantee; if they failed, Severn-Trent had to replace them, at full cost.

But about six years into the program, hundreds of the meters started to fail monthly, said Tony Speciale, the village's public works director. Due to a design flaw, moisture entered the meters' battery compartments and ruined the batteries.

When the batteries died, the meter display disappeared, and the meter would no longer send a signal to meter-reading trucks.

The village was forced to estimate customers' water use based on the customers' histories.

Speciale said to be on the safe side, the village estimated conservatively during times such as summer when customers may have actually used more water due to water lawns.

So far, 1,300 meters have been replaced, and another 20 customers are waiting for replacement meters.

But Severn-Trent has sold its meter manufacturing business to another company, and wanted to get out of its contract with Sugar Grove.

Under the contract, the England-based Severn-Trent was sending a representative to Sugar Grove quarterly to check faulty meters before agreeing to replace them.

The digital meters were supposed to be more accurate than the previous mechanical meters. Mechanical water meters degrade with wear and tear, especially when water is corrosive.

In July 2013, Severn-Trent reached a similar settlement with Tinley Park.

ComEd officials say they will soon begin installing smart meters in six municipalities in DuPage County next month.

George Gaulrapp, external affairs manager for ComEd, gave a smart meter presentation last week to the Lombard village board. Lombard is one of the towns included in the next installation cycle, along with Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Warrenville, Oak Brook and West Chicago.

"is it going to help people save money, manage your electricity and help with outages, which we hope we have fewer of," Gaulrapp said.

The digital electric meters will replace residents' current analog meters. Once the meters are installed and ComEd updates its infrastructure to a "smart grid" system, information about energy usage and power outages will be transmitted digitally to ComEd.

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