Tupelo Water & Light started installing fiber-optic cable around the city in August 2011 that will allow it to remotely scan utility customers' meters. But the effort hit a snag in June when the city attempted to cross the Natchez Trace Parkway.
The federal park must issue a permit before the city can perform any work that might disrupt its view shed. After months of red tape, the permit finally came about two weeks ago, said TW&L Manager Johnny Timmons.
Timmons expects work to resume next week but said it could take at least another year before it's complete.
"If we could put that crew on it Monday and they stayed on it continuously, we could be completed in six months, but we've been doing this in our spare time because don't want to pay an expensive contractor," he said.
After the cable is installed, TW&L still must purchase and install the electronic and signaling equipment. This will allow its substations and meters to communicate remotely. Timmons said money for the project comes from the TW&L budget and not from the city's general fund.
When it's fully operational, the technology will eliminate the need for Tupelo's nine meter readers, although those employees will keep their jobs; just have different duties. The system also will save the department vehicle, maintenance and fuel costs by eliminating the monthly routes to read thousands of customer meters.
And it will give customers more accurate readings of their utility usage.
Currently, "some months it will take 31 days, some days it will take 34 days," Timmons said. "That's because of the weather. This will let us read your meter on 30-day increments so you can compare apples to apples."
While awaiting the federal permit, TW&L already installed about two dozen remote meters to test the technology.
"These things are reading like crazy," Timmons said. "It's just as accurate as if you were standing out there physically reading the meter."