New electricity meters

This "smart meter" has been installed on the Northern Wasco County PUD’s office in The Dalles for several months now. The PUD calls the meters "advance meters."

In a move discussed for over 10 years and actively planned for two, the Northern Wasco County PUD, starting this month, will switch out its 10,100 meters with “smart meters” that report usage digitally to the PUD.

The $1.2 million investment will improve the accuracy of readings, said PUD General Manager/CEO Roger Kline Thursday morning. Some current meters are 50 years old and no parts are available for them.

The PUD does not have an opt-out option that would allow people to keep their old meter. New meters will begin to be installed on Monday, Aug. 5. The first phase will go in an area roughly bounded by Cherry Heights Road on the west and Kelly Avenue on the east.

The PUD sent a letter to all its customers about the switch-out. It asks that people ensure their meter is accessible, and explains that someone will knock on their door to tell them the meter will be switched. Power will be down for about 10 minutes as the switch out occurs.

The workers doing the switching, who are with the company Anixter Solutions, will have a decal on their vehicle stating they are working for the PUD. If nobody is home when they do the switch-out, they will leave a door-hanger, explaining that some household items may have been triggered to reset.

Kline said the meters that measure how much power the PUD buys from the Bonneville Power Administration and other providers are highly accurate, but the meters that determine how much the PUD can charge its own customers for usage are much less accurate.

He said newer homes that have newer meters installed have more accurate readings, whereas homes with much older meters are probably under-recording usage. “We’re probably under-collecting” from customers with older meters, he said.

He said the PUD was purposely not an early adopter of this technology. “We waited a long time for the prices to come down and the technology to be very, very reliable,” he said. “This has been in the works for well over a decade at the PUD.”

He envisions several major changes in providing power, including a future where solar is `more affordable, and where electricity is more a part of transportation. People and power companies will need accurate data to help in decision-making.

The PUD’s two full-time meter readers will be taking on other positions in the PUD, he said.

The changeover means less miles driven by the PUD and no more meter readers coming onto people’s property to read meters.

The smart meters, or advanced meters as the PUD calls them, have drawn criticism from individuals who say they are a health hazard, causing  problems ranging from insomnia to hormonal changes and even cancer.

The PUD’s website says smart meters are safe and emit dramatically fewer radio frequencies than common items, like cell phones and even other people.

“In everyday life, whether its radiation coming from planet earth or holding a cellphone to your head or being around a wi-fi signal, those are all much greater than the one minute per day of RF [radio frequency] emitted by our advanced meter—and it’s typically on the outside of your house, with a wall between you and it,” Kline said.

The PUD’s website links to a page by the American Cancer Society, which states “Because the amount of RF radiation you could be exposed to from a smart meter is much less than what you could be exposed to from a cell phone, it is very unlikely that living in a house with a smart meter increases risk of cancer.”

The American Cancer Society said a study found smart meters won’t interfere with medical devices like heart pacemakers or implantable defibrilators.

Kline said the replacement of meters is in line with other replacement projects the PUD undertakes, such as replacing power poles and lines and vehicles.

The smart meters will allow for real-time measurement of power usage, and an app will be made available for customers to monitor their usage so they can make changes if they desire.

He said other power utilities, such as Portland General Electric, are offering “time of use pricing to incentivize reduction. Currently we’re not interested in offering that because it can come off as more of a stick than a carrot.”

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