Part of a routine service upgrade, it’s the first time Appalachian Power, a unit of American Electric Power, has updated local meters in nearly 15 years.
Approximately 7,000 Advanced Metering Infrastructure meters will take the place of radio frequency – or RF – meters that were installed beginning in 2005.
“The meters are upgraded when there is a significant change in technology or if a current technology is discontinued. In this case, both of those situations occurred,” said Teresa Hall, Appalachian Power’s communications consultant.
There is no charge to customers for these new meters, but the upgrade could offer consumers multiple benefits.
AMI meters are equipped with technology that allows the company to read customer meters remotely. The current RF meters require an employee in a company vehicle to drive by a home or business to obtain meter readings. AMI meters combine radio frequency and cell phone technology to transmit meter readings directly to the company, eliminating the need for an employee to drive by the location.
Appalachian Power officials noted that the upgrade to read meters remotely won’t cause significant impacts on their consumers’ bills one way or another, the company did note that they expect to see operational savings associated with their installation.
While the new installation has its perks, some community members plan to double check the system’s data, compared to the RF meters.
“I will keep check on the readings to make sure it is accurate,” said Crystal Flannagan-Terrell, a Bassett-based customer for the past five years. “A lot of things, like the internet, are now satellite, so I don’t worry about it that much.”
Joanie Petty, a Fieldale-Collinsville-based customer for more than 20 years, said she looks forward to the new remotely read installment but also plans to compare upcoming reading and rates to those of the past.
“I feel good about it because we live in a private, secluded area, and it is uncommon to have people wandering around the yard. I also know that it can save time,” Petty said. “My concern would be accuracy. We are becoming more reliant on wireless and digital technology and even though it creates efficiencies, sometimes, in my experience, it can give a false sense of security.”
Petty said that having someone look directly at the meter on a regular basis could stop a minor issue before it became a big problem.
But some of the other perks of the new meters excited community members. For instance these AMI meters will bring attention to power outages as they occur, which would allow the company more quickly to dispatch a crew to restore power.
“The meters communicate directly to the company’s outage management system and report a loss of power almost immediately,” Hall said. “Since every meter reports back to the outage management system, we are able to tell if only a single customer is out or entire groups of customers.”
The quick detection could make a big impact following bad thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes, all of which sometimes impact the power.
“I think this will be great,” Petty said. “We have had severe weather systems over the past few years that have caused power outages. I think they have done a great job of restoring power quickly and this will be even better.”
Flannagan-Terrell said she considered the impact the new meters could have on the area during the upcoming winter months.
“I love the idea of pinpointing power outages, as there are some areas I know of that go without power for some time during snow,” she said.
The new meters provide other benefits as well. For example, the physical electric service connections and disconnects for customer accounts, as well as some other service needs, can be accomplished remotely thereby speeding service for customers.
The individual meter change-out is relatively simple. Contracted workers will be in the field to remove old meters and install the AMI meters. In a residential location, they will walk to the meter base, take photographs for documentation, remove the RF meter and plug in the new meter.
Customers should expect a short power outage while the meters are being switched. If customers are not at home during the replacement, they may find a blinking digital clock to reset when they return.
“Each customer will experience an outage of 15 to 30 seconds while the meter change occurs,” Hall said.
"The contract installers will be wearing appropriate credentials and drive vehicles that are marked as AEP Appalachian Power contractors. The workers will not ask to enter a customer’s house, nor will they ask the customer to go outdoors.
“All of the work performed by the contractor is done outside and at the meter base,” Hall said. “Thus, there is no need for anyone to enter the customer’s home or to inconvenience the customer by asking them to step outside.”