Denise Cordova

Metering Supervisor, New Braunfels Utilities

AT: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career.

I have been with NBU for four years. I started off as a dispatch supervisor and then moved to becoming metering supervisor. Before that I was a 911 dispatcher – I was hired to build a 24/7 operation for dispatch for NBU and then moved on to the metering division.

Please give us a brief history and current overview of your utility.

NBU started operations in 1942. We have 45,000 meters in the field, and serve customers in the New Braunfels and Smithson Valley areas. NBU offers water and electricity as well as sewer services. We have a surface water treatment plant, which produces 8 million gallons a day – this is roughly a day’s water usage. We draw water from Guadalupe River and also have wells to supply our service area, but primarily depend on the treated surface water to supply our customers. NBU has three sewage treatment plants and several lift stations. NBU has six substations in our service area and have a high reliability for supplying customers.

NBU is like a municipality but we have our own board and CEO; we are independent but not private.

What are some of the key challenges your utility faces?

The main challenge is the growth rate – we are growing at about 15% a year, and it’s difficult to meet that demand. All new growth means line construction, sewer, electric – it’s all synergistic. 

On the metering side we use Itron products almost exclusively, and we are in the process of implementing a fixed network system which would make reading of meters less labor intensive and more reliable. Currently we are reading with mobile data unit, hand held devices, and still have some direct read meters.

Please give us a short overview of the metering operations.

As I mentioned, we use Itron products, meters and reading devices. We are currently doing a Beta with Itron’s CL200 16S meter, testing it for reading with handheld devices, mobile data unit, as well as in a fixed network environment.

We have 25,869 electric meters, of which 18,509 are Itron Centron Meters. We have 20,557 water meters supplied by Neptune; 9,250 are equipped with Itron ERT’s.

How do you disconnect them if necessary?

We must manually disconnect meters. We will be looking at a vendor for remote disconnect at some point in the future.

How are meters read?

The larger meters are direct reads, and the key accounts are read remotely by an outside company that sends the report to us electronically and then we verify the reads. It’s primarily a mobile network. There are 18,000 electric meters that are converted to give out radio signals in terms of being read.

What procedures do you follow when doing  upgrades/replacements, and what are the key factors you consider when reviewing different meters?

In terms of water meters, it is based line every ten years. We replace about 2,000 meters a year. Change-outs are cost-justified through flow testing – there is an 8-15% loss percentage on older meters. On the electric side we don’t change meters often, because they are considered and proven  stable.

How does your utility manage customers who do not pay their accounts?

We disconnect for non-pay. Restoration of service is done after the bill is paid.

Do you outsource any business processes or operations?

Approximately half of our meters are read by a contract reader. Construction work is also contracted out for both electric and water. That decision is based on work load, size of the project, and budget.

Please give us a short overview of your billing operations and some of your customer management / service initiatives.

We have a billing department that gets the bills, and they send them to an outsource agency to send out to the customers. Customers are billed monthly. At this stage we don’t offer online bill payments, IVR systems and so on.

What is your vision for your utility?

Our vision is to provide utility services to our customers in the most cost-effective method to remain competitive in the market. Our Mission is improving the quality of life for our customers and community through excellence in service.

Once the fixed network is implemented, the majority of meters will be read automatically. This will change the job description of the meter reader, as it will then be more a technical role. We don’t want to cut back on our workforce, so this will require some finessing of skills to adjust for the change.