Council hears energy, water innovations

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by Dennis Dalman

After hearing two more presentations about utilities and energy, the Sartell City Council has some big, innovative and possibly expensive decisions to make in the future.

At the Oct. 23 city-council meeting, lengthy presentations were given to council members by officials from three companies – Ferguson Waterworks Meters, WaterSmart Software and Apex Solutions. At a previous meeting, a fourth company – Johnson Controls – also gave a detailed presentation.

The three presentations and the scrupulous technical research involve state-of-the-art ways for the city to realize long-term energy savings, water savings and an automated water-metering system for all residents and businesses in the city.

As presented at the Oct. 9 meeting by Johnson Controls, the possible plans could include total refits to LED lighting for all city lights (including the 500 or so city street lights), indoor and outdoor; building “envelopes” to completely block any heat leakages, fans to circulate heat to where it is most needed, temperature and humidity control, rebates from utility companies, energy-load management, water-treatment plant efficiency measures, and an automatic meter-reading system that would read all residential and business meters via electronic signals. Such readings could allow the city and water-users to know instantly if there are leaks in the system or where water is being wasted.

The three companies could work together to bring to Sartell the complete interrelated systems. They would work with current city vendors and energy providers, as well as other vendors – for instance a vendor to provide the new water meters.

Sartell would have the option of introducing the technology in increments over a period of time, or it could decide to do it all at once.

Ferguson Waterworks Meters

At the Oct. 23 meeting, officials from Ferguson Waterworks Meters (headquartered in Virginia state) outlined the water-meter technology available.

The following are highlights of the presentation:

  • All homes and businesses in the city could be equipped with new water meters, ones that are read automatically via radio signals and that are extraordinarily accurate. The meters could be read in a mobile fashion, from cars that drive up and down streets, or in a more advanced system, the signals would be beamed from homes to receptors on towers.
  • The meters themselves have a life of at least 30 years, although their batteries would have to be installed more often, perhaps every 10 to 14 years. The city would pay for all the meters; homeowners and businesses would not have any costs for the meters or their installation.
  • Neptune Technology is a vendor for Ferguson and has millions of water meters in the United States, ones that still work perfectly, such as in Brooklyn Park where they were installed in 1998.
  • All of the dates from meters can be stored, and the data is so detailed it records from every meter exactly how much water is used and what times of day or night. It can even detect if there is an undue heavy use of water, which could indicate a leak, either in a water pipe at a home or business or a leaky toilet not obvious to owners but apparent on the water usage recorded by the meters. Residents would have access protected, private online access to all of their water-usage information, which includes charts, graphs, alerts and a vast amount of other information.
  • Currently, Sartell does, in fact, have some auto-read water meters installed, which are “read” via radio signals to vehicles driven by public-works employees. But the current meters are nowhere near the complexity of the ones presented by Ferguson.
  • Ferguson is able to offer a full panoply of ongoing backup services for the metering system, which is included in the cost – about $1 million.


Based in San Francisco, WaterSmart Software Inc. specializes in water efficiency and data analysis. It’s the communications software that could work in tandem with Ferguson to record, store and interpret all the data from a new radio-signal water-meter system.

The following are highlights of the presentation:

  • The data recorded in WaterSmart software is available through what’s called “Customer Portal.” The data, always available to customers, even via iPhones, includes leak alerts, high-volume water spike times, information on how to diagnose a leak or fix a problem, water usage indicated by days and hours of water usage.
  • Customers could pay their bills online. Each customer would have a secure access to the data via username and password. WaterSmart systems in many cities, including Shoreview in Minnesota and large cities like Los Angeles have helped residents and businesses save a lot of money on water usage, and customer satisfaction is known to be excellent, according to the presenters.

Apex Solutions

Based in Anoka, Apex Solutions specializes in resource conservation and works with city energy vendors to help cities save on energy costs. It also works with water and wastewater technologies, as well as solar projects.

In Sartell specifically, Apex presenters offered the following options:

  • City buildings could be sealed with “building envelopes,” which means a way to seal all leaks from which heat or air-conditioned air can be lost.
  • All city lights, including street lights, can be replaced with LED lights that are very energy-efficient and can last for many years without burning out and needing to be replaced.
  • The Sartell east water plant might be closed in the future as it is in serious need of repairs and updates currently. Apex Solutions could help with that process.
  • Sartell’s other two water plants (a northwest one and southwest one) could have rows of solar panels on the grounds near them to provide sun energy. In addition, a solar-panel installation could be placed on the part of the roof of the new Sartell Community Center, which would also save significant energy costs.


The Sartell City Council will continue to ponder the options as presented by the four companies. It could decide to do a few or more of the innovations; it could decide to introduce them in increments over years; or it could decide to do all or none of the options.

A final cost breakdown and projections of cost savings will be determined at the time of the decisions.

photo Apex Solutions website
This rooftop solar project by Apex Solutions, location not specified, is the same kind of project that could be installed on part of the roof of Sartell’s new community center.

Author: Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.

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