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Posted on Jun 17, 2016

PUD moves forward on plans to upgrade meters

Grant PUD is moving forward with plans to update all utility meters across the county — residential and commercial — to more advanced digital meters.
The Advanced Metering Program is expected to cost about $14.9 million, said Trung Tran, telecom engineering supervisor with the PUD.
The system is expected to pay for itself by 2021, saving the utility about $35 million over the next 10 years, Tran said.
The savings will come in a reduction of staff and, mostly, in transportation-related costs associated with reading those older meters, Tran told the commissioners at their regular Tuesday staff meeting.
No employees will be laid off in the transition to the advanced digital meters; those who are lost through retirement or leaving the utility will not be replaced. Others will be reassigned, Tran explained.
The new advanced digital meters are replacing all meters currently used by customers. The advanced digital meters will be read through a wireless system over the utility’s already existing communications infrastructure, with the information stored in the cloud at a data center in Las Vegas.
Commissioner Tom Flint questioned why data centers in Quincy weren’t being used. The utility doesn’t have much control over the data center used by the vendor staff is recommending, which is Silver Springs, Tran said.
Digital meters will give Grant PUD the ability to better track people’s usage, Tran said. For example, if a customer calls asking why a utility bill is higher than normal, representatives will be able to tell the customer the exact day and time frame when the spike in service occurred, Tran said.
Eventually, the utility hopes to be able to give customers the capability of monitoring their usage online, he said.
The new meters also will be able to cut down on customers who tamper with their meters or tap into the power system. Across the nation, utilities lose 1.6 percent to 3.2 percent of their revenues to tampering, Tran said.
After the meeting, Tran added that the digital meters have multiple levels of security to prevent anyone hacking into the technology.
Customers can opt to have their meters read manually. However, those customers will have to pay for the cost associated with serving the older meters. The PUD has not yet determined what that cost is; staff is still working on those numbers, said Chuck Allen, PUD spokesman.
Tran estimated that the cost to service an electromechanical meter may amount to a one-time $95 fee and then a monthly $70 fee thereafter.
If commissioners approve the move to the advanced digital meters, then the utility would move forward on the project, starting in the Moses Lake area. The Quincy area should be transitioned over to the new meters sometime in late 2017, Tran said.
PUD staff are expected to bring a final plan to commissioners for their approval in the coming weeks.


— By Jill FitzSimmons,

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