New billing system paves way for savings, jobs in Austin

Austin, Texas will soon have a new billing system to support the city’s, water and waste-collection operations. An eight-year contract, reportedly worth nearly $60 million, will replace an antiquated system and foster a new climate for green energy technology in the region, officials said Tuesday.

The contract went to Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, who will be working with Oracle to develop the new billing system. In April, the Austin American-Statesman reported that city council members were considering a plan to overhaul the system over the next two years. According to that same report, the installation of new billing software, along with new meters that monitor energy use, would help usher smart grid technologies to the city.

City officials say the combined result of these steps — which require a commitment of more than $75 million in utility money — will be an electrical grid capable of testing and incorporating new energy-saving technologies. For instance, officials envision software that may allow homeowners to turn off individual appliances from a laptop or cell phone, or a rate structure that rewards customers who avoid using their appliances when electric use is highest — which, if successful, could reduce the need for costly new electricity-generating facilities.

The American-Statesman story also said that costs would be paid for with fees collected by the water utility, electric utility and waste-collection department. The system will need a reported $36.4 million to build and install during the first two years and $3.6 million per year to operate over six years and two months.

IBM says that by providing consumers with real-time information through a single point of contact through multiple communications channels, they’ll be better equipped to manage their energy usage and lower their monthly bills. And for utilities such as Austin Energy, the ability to detect outages and integrate alternative sources of energy, like wind or solar power, will be facilitated through a smart grid system.

If all the pieces fall into place, a cooperative effort led by the city, University of Texas and numerous tech companies, would position Austin to attract new jobs in clean energy technology. The Pecan Street Project includes companies like IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, and others, who are relying on Austin Energy to provide a grid they can use to test their products on. If Pecan Street can show they are making headway in doing that, they would be eligible for up to $100 million in federal economic stimulus money.

“The City of Austin has long been at the forefront of green energy initiatives, so we are excited to work with the city on this new billing system, which will lay the groundwork for the development of a smart grid in Central Texas,” Jeff Smith, vice president of Communications Sector Solutions for IBM, said in a statement.

The current billing system costs the city about $7.4 million per year to maintain and is a major inhibitor to realizing the energy efficiencies made possible through smart grid technology, officials said in the April article.

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