Analysis: Questions that should be asked at Wednesday’s public hearing on smart water meters

by Kathleen Sloan | October 11, 2021
6 min read
Source: Neptune Water Services

Once again, the staff and city commission of the City of Truth or Consequences are relying on a smart meter vendor to help them decide whether to buy and install smart water meters at the properties of the city’s 3,500 water utility customers.

T or C paid YESCO—Yearout Energy Services Company of Albuquerque—about $60,000 in 2017 to study whether the city should replace electric and water customers’ analog meters with smart meters, according to documents the Sun received from the city in response to an Inspection of Public Records Act request. Unsurprisingly, YESCO’s recommendation was “yes.”

YESCO proposed to sell the recommended equipment for about $9 million dollars to be paid over 20 years, a deal left on the table by the city commission. It declined, not because it had sought and received neutral, third-party advice about the cost-benefits of smart meters. The city commission recognized the price was simply too expensive, according to city commission meeting minutes.

Four years later, YESCO will again be afforded the opportunity to present the reasons why the city should replace its water customers’ analog meters with smart meters at a public hearing to take place at this Wednesday’s commission meeting. By labeling what will be in effect a sales presentation as a public hearing (a governmental fact-finding tool for which official notice must be provided and official minutes kept), the city is again obfuscating YESCO’s status as a vendor, when in fact the company is not a neutral third party giving disinterested advice.

Wednesday’s public hearing will give T or C residents an opportunity to ask questions and to hold the city commission accountable for seeking and providing answers to those questions before it embarks on the second go-round of smart meter purchases. During the first go-round, there were no public hearings to educate the commissioners before they awarded a $1 million-plus contract to Landis + Gyr to supply smart electric meters.

The first, most obvious question that must be answered is: Why is the city considering spending millions on smart meters when it does not have the resources to repair its failing water system infrastructure? T or C’s aging water lines spring 20 to 25 leaks a week—as City Manager Bruce Swingle has been reporting since he was hired in May.

A third-party water system audit conducted in 2019 by Wilson & Company, a national engineering company with a branch in Las Cruces, determined that the city lost 33 percent of the water it pumped in 2015 and 2016. Wilson estimated the water loss for 2017 and 2018 at 38 percent. The cause of these losses, according to Wilson & Company: “poor conditions of the system.” Wilson’s Water System Preliminary Engineering Report made no mention of customer meter-reading problems.

YESCO, on the other hand, states in a document included in the commission’s Wednesday, Oct. 13 meeting packet that more than half of its estimate of T or C’s water losses can be traced to faulty meter readings. YESCO, which describes itself as a “design-build contractor” on its website, asserts that the city has been losing about 115 million gallons a year since 2018. That is equivalent to a loss of 26.6 percent of the water pumped, YESCO states. Using data gathered in its 2017 study, YESCO attributes 14 percent of these losses, which it labels “nonrevenue water,” to antiquated meters producing readings that are too low.

Whether the design-build contractor’s estimated water losses and assessment of their causes are more accurate than those provided by the engineering firm is a question that should be asked and answered. 

Another is whether replacing and upgrading T or C’s water system lines, pumps and other infrastructure would result in less “nonrevenue water” and more financial savings than meter replacement.

YESCO’s meeting packet document states that the installation of smart water meters will yield additional revenues of $250,000, but does not specify the timeframe over which these revenues will be collected. As evidence, YESCO cites its own 2017 study, which estimated that the city would gain $200,000 in revenues if it replaced both its electric and water meters with smart meters, although again it did not specify the timeframe. YESCO appears to have made an error in logic. Shouldn’t its estimate of $250,000 in increased revenues from water meter replacement be lower, not higher, than the $200,000 figure it estimated would be gained if both electric and water meters were replaced?  

In addition, shouldn’t it be possible for the city to precisely calculate whether it has seen an increase in electric utility revenues due to the supposedly more accurate readings provided by the smart meters that have been in place for about a year on the properties of T or C’s 4,000 residential and commercial electric customers?

YESCO also claims operating and maintenance savings for the water and sewer department will be $40,000 in the first year after analog water meters are replaced. Its packet document provides no explanation of how the savings figure has been calculated.   

YESCO’s price for replacing the analog meters of the city’s 3,506 water customers with smart meters is $3.5 million, to be paid over 13 years, according to the document in the commission’s Oct. 13 packet. It appears that YESCO is willing to compensate the city for the smart meter “backbone” already installed by Landis + Gyr, with the appropriate amount to be subtracted from the overall $3.5 million price tag.

There have been no definitive studies on the health effects of daily exposure to high radio-frequency waves by which smart meter readings are transmitted. Again and again, citizens have pleaded with the city commissioners to take into consideration the possible health threats posed by this technology. They should be asked once again to factor the risks to their constituents into their decision making. There are less expensive alternatives to ensure greater accuracy of analog meter readings, as was pointed out by other venders in their responses to the RFP for the smart electric meter purchase.

YESCO’s packet document does not explain its proposed financing terms. Is this a lease-purchase arrangement, with the city owning the equipment at the end of 13 years? Principal and interest are not broken out of the overall price, nor are the costs of the equipment and labor separately identified. These information gaps should be filled before a decision to purchase smart water meters on time is made.  

Landis + Gyr charged $1 million-plus to supply more than 4,000 smart electric meters, according to a one-time statement by then City Manager Morris Madrid—still the only public accounting of the replacement project’s cost. By comparison, YESCO’s price seems very high.

As part of its due diligence, T or C should prepare a detailed accounting of the smart electric meter purchase and installation costs and any ongoing expenses in order to assess if YESCO’s offer is reasonable.

The wisdom of buying smart meters over time should also be questioned. Landis + Gyr said during an early 2020 city commission meeting that smart meters have a five-to-seven-year lifespan. If this is true, the timeline for YESCO’s proposed meter purchase is about twice as long as the life of the equipment.

The Sun asked City Manager Swingle in a Sept. 27 email for answers to many of the questions presented here. He declined to offer any of the requested explanations, replying only:

“If [we didn’t hold] a public meeting the small group would throw it in the commissions face for not having [one]. This will be my first opportunity to hear YESCO or any other party speak about smart metering. At this point there is no plan to do anything but educate the city.”

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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