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A month ago, much of South Haven remained in the dark for four hours following an electrical power outage.

The outage occurred following a lightning strike in Northern Indiana damaged one of Indiana Michigan Power’s main lines that feeds electricity to Southwest Michigan customers.

Outages such as that, which leave an entire town in the dark, are few and far between. Most electrical failures happen during high wind storms or if equipment fails, with the length of time needed to fix the problem dependent on how quickly the source can be located.

But in the future, pinpointing the cause of a power failure in the South Haven area will become much easier, courtesy of a new advanced metering infrastructure system.

Earlier this month, the South Haven City Council gave the go-ahead for the city’s Board of Public Utilities to invest $1.9 million in the new system that will be installed by ETNA Supply of Grand Rapids.

Smart meter systems, as they’re sometimes referred to, allow for more accurate reads, automatic power outage notification and more accurate monitoring of electrical power.

“It will improve customer service in the long-run,” said South Haven Department of Public Works Director Bill Hunter. “Whenever there’s an outage, we’ll know right away what’s out.”

The DPW currently employs two to three people – depending on the time of year – to manually read electrical meters once a month. When the AMI system is installed, those employees will be reassigned to other positions, Hunter said.

The Board of Public Utilities, which serves customers in South Haven, South Haven Township and portions of Casco and Geneva townships, has been considering an AMI system for several years.

City council members budgeted $1.9 million for an AMI system in the 2019-20 fiscal year budget. But the expenditure was put on hold.

“Staff workload did not allow it,” Hunter said, referring to staff’s attention diverted to addressing damage to lakeshore roadways, city-owned marinas and the wastewater treatment plant.

The damage was attributed to flooding and erosion caused by record-high water levels on Lake Michigan.

When the new system will be installed remains up in the air due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hopefully this fiscal year, but that is dependent on the availability of equipment,” Hunter said.