Meter Upgrade - Smart Meters

 

 

The Town of Estes Park Utilities Department is implementing an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) to better serve the community. The AMI is comprised of smart meters and infrastructure devices to transmit the meter reading data.

Automated Meter Reading (AMR), or "drive-by" meters, has been in place throughout Estes Park for about 20 years. Replacing the current AMR meters with smart meters enables digital communication between the meter and the utility. 
 

Benefits:

  • Enhances Service: Smart meters increase quality and reliability. They enable remote electric outage notification to staff resulting in faster service response and shorter outages, as well as the ability to detect some water leaks.
  • Helps the Environment: By using smart meters, staff can avoid many vehicle miles traveled to gather billing information. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Taps into Technology: Smart meters form the backbone of the smart grid and are a critical link in our ability to integrate rooftop solar and other forms of distributed generation.

Over time, this system will provide more benefits from emerging technologies and more advanced water system modeling.

From September 2015 through March 2016, the Town completed the Estes Valley AMI pilot project. In April 2016, the Town started limited deployment of select meters throughout the Light and Power service area. In January 2017, the Town transitioned to a system-wide replacement plan.

Smart meters and supplemental devices create a wireless two-way communication mesh network between the existing AMR meters, the new AMI meters and the utility. The smart meters transmit highly accurate electricity and water consumption data back to the utility at set intervals. This eliminates the need to send a technician to drive by customers' homes and businesses to gather meter readings for billing purposes while providing many benefits including enhanced reliability and quality, as well as the ability to integrate distributed generation.

The AMI electric meter is also capable of collecting usage data from existing AMR electric and water meters. In 2015, approximately 70 AMI meters were put in place during the pilot program in the Estes Valley (24 residential and the remainder on Town facilities). These 70 AMI meters read approximately 3,000 AMR meters. Estes Park Utilities selected the Tantalus TUNet meter due to its ability to allow gradual migration from AMR to AMI meters over time. As of the beginning of 2020, over 6000 smart meters have been installed on the Power and Communications system.

Installation Schedule

Since the AMI system being used can integrate with the many of the existing AMR meters on the system (see How they Work), replacing select meters in addition to regularly scheduled replacements will allow Estes Park Utilities to gather readings from the existing AMR meters as well. Installation schedules will be determined by billing route priority and crew availability. Notification mailers have been sent to all remaining customers in the Power and Communications service area. Residential customers remain the priority for meter upgrades, meter staff will work closely with commercial customers to coordinate meter upgrades where appropriate.

Currently, Power and Communications are focusing on meter upgrades in the Fall River Road (map), Peak View Rd (map) and Highway 66 (map) areas. Updated maps will be posted here as staff move to new areas.

The following areas have largely been upgraded:

  • CR43/Glen Haven &, The Retreat
  • Highway 7 corridor: Meeker Park south to Allenspark
  • Pole Hill/Highway 36
  • Devils Gulch/Dry Gulch Roads
  • Little Valley

What to Expect During Installation

Estes Park Utilities personnel, or contractors with official identification, will arrive at the property and knock on the door. If the resident answers, they will provide a brief overview of the following:

  • The resident\'s AMR electric meter is being replaced with an upgraded AMI electric meter
  • There will be a brief power outage, so if there are any medical devices, computer or other electronic device operating, the installer should be notified and will request time for that outage.
  • For the operation of critical medical equipment, call Utilities at 970-586-5331 or 1-800-748-1717, option 1 upon receiving notification of meter installation, so staff can accommodate those important needs.
  • Utilities personnel will conduct a visual inspection of the meter socket. Although not required, this is being done as part of staff\'s commitment to safety.
  • The entire process should take about 15 minutes.
  • Digital displays will need to be reset due to the brief power outage, which typically lasts less than 20 seconds.

If the resident does not answer the door upon arrival of our metering staff, they will replace the meter and leave a door hanger indicating that the meter was upgraded.

General Information
What is the meter upgrade project?

The Town of Estes Park Utilities Department is upgrading to Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), or smart meters, to better serve our premier mountain community. Automated Meter Reading (AMR) ‚ or "drive-by" meters, have been in place throughout Estes Park for more than a decade. Replacing the current electric AMR meters with smart meters enables two-way digital communication between the meter and the utility.

Why is the Town upgrading to smart meters?

First and foremost, we believe that upgrading our meters allows us to serve customers better. This has always been our goal, and we have upgraded meters periodically throughout the 100 years of the utility's history.

The Town of Estes Park currently has meters in place that allow for Automated Meter Reading (AMR). This system has been in place for approximately 20 years.

Estes Park Utilities selected the Tantalus platformer (www.tantalus.com) due to its ability to allow gradual migration from AMR to AMI meters over time. The Tantalus solution allows us to take advantage of existing meter technology already installed and protect our previous investments as we phase out the existing AMR meters.

How are smart meters different from what we have now?

Smart meters provide wireless two-way communication between meters and the utility. The electric smart meters transmit electricity consumption and water meter consumption data back to the utility. This eliminates the need to send a technician to drive by customers' homes and businesses to gather meter readings for billing purposes while providing many benefits including enhanced reliability and quality.

Are other communities pursuing advanced metering projects?

The Town of Estes Park is among hundreds of utilities implementing smart meters. According to the Edison Foundation Institute for Electric Innovation (IEI), as of July 2014, over 50 million smart meters had been deployed in the U.S., covering over 43 percent of U.S. homes. Various research groups (e.g., Berg Insights, NPD Group) predict a minimum of 50% smart meter penetration in the US by 2016 and nearly 100% by 2020.

In our region, City of Fort Collins Utilities, Mountain Parks Electric, Loveland Water District, Poudre Valley REA, and Colorado Springs Utilities are implementing smart meter programs.

Benefits
What are the benefits of upgrading meters? How will my service improve?

There will be immediate system and operational advantages from the meter upgrade. Smart meters allow true two-way communication between the meters and the utility, giving Utilities the ability to provide better service to our community.

Among the benefits:

  • Enhanced Service: Smart meters increase quality and reliability. They enable remote electric outage detection and faster service response, as well as the ability to detect water some leaks.
  • Helps the Environment: By using smart meters, we can avoid many vehicle miles traveled to gather billing information. This increases staff efficiency and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Taps into Technology: Smart meters form the backbone of the smart grid. Over time, this system will allow us to more fully benefit from emerging technologies, such as distributed renewable generation, and more advanced water system modeling.

More specifically, we will be able to:

  • Enhance customer service in responding to high use questions
  • Detect outages remotely, so that we can find and resolve issues to restore your service more quickly. This may be particularly useful to second homeowners and remote areas without cell phone service.
  • Detect and correct voltage issues to result in better, more consistent power quality, which means fewer lights flickering and digital displays flashing.
  • Improve our ability to detect some water leaks.
  • More efficiently manage the utility operation to make better use of the community‚Äôs resources.
  • Avoid greenhouse gas emissions from driving throughout the community to read meters on a monthly basis and driving out for final service reads.
     
Installation Process and Implementation
What can I expect during meter installation?

  Typically, the installation process doesn't require customers to be present and results in only a brief interruption to electric service and no interruption to water service.

When will meters be replaced?

Since the AMI system being used can integrate with the many of the existing AMR meters on the system, replacing select meters in addition to regularly scheduled replacements will allow Estes Park Utilities to gather readings from the existing AMR meters as well.

The following areas have largely been upgraded:

CR43/Glen Haven &, The Retreat
Highway 7 corridor: Meeker Park south to Allenspark
Pole Hill/Highway 36
Dry Gulch/Devils Gulch
Highway 7 corridor: Carriage Hills - Meeker Park

How the System Works
How detailed is the data that is collected by the new meters?

Normal operating practice will be to collect typical residential electricity or water reads hourly. An interval down to 15 minutes is required for certain customer accounts on "demand billing".

In addition, a snapshot of meter data may be requested (this is often called "pinging") in order to quickly answer customer questions, troubleshoot system issues, or collect a final read when a customer closes their account. This capability represents significant financial savings and environmental benefits because we can do this without having a technician drive out to the customer\'s property.

An example of this capability will be responding to customer calls about residential power outages. In the course of the call, we can use the system to determine if power is on at the meter or not. Many times a customer power outage is caused by a circuit breaker in the customer's home. By "pinging" the meter, faster, higher-quality service can be provided without sending crews out to assess the problem.

How often will the new meter transmit my data?

The new meter will send electricity and water use data via brief transmissions approximately 28 times per day. One read per month will be posted to the billing system for use in generating monthly bills.

Will the utility know when I am home or what devices I am using?

The detail of the data from smart meters cannot detect the presence of people in their homes, nor does it indicate what you are using electricity for. The Estes Park TUNet meter solution simply measures the consumption of electricity and water.

Will you turn off or control my thermostat or my appliances through these new meters?

No. Although some utilities offer such programs, which require specialized equipment such as smart thermostats, participation in such programs is strictly voluntary for each individual customer.

If in the future Estes Park offers such programs to help customers manage their use and costs while conserving resources, program participation would be 100% voluntary.

How secure will my utility data be?

With the same care that the Town already exercises in handling sensitive data such as financial information, we will strictly adhere to existing privacy rules. In addition, the meter manufacturer fully encrypts data packets using latest encryption technology.

Concerns

I have read some negative articles about smart meters. Why is the Town of Estes Park pursuing it?

According to various research sources, approximately 50% of the meters in the country are now smart meters. Since Estes Park is not an early adopter in this area, we can build on the many lessons learned about such projects. The Town is taking advantage of both positive and negative experiences in other communities to guide our project and ensure its success. We are also using experienced resources as needed to assist with the project. We are convinced that the customer, system and operational benefits are significant and support our Town's vision of being a premier mountain community.

Some people have health concerns related to Radio Frequency. Why is that?

The health concern expressed relates to the impacts of exposure to Radio Frequency (RF). Many devices in our modern world generate RF exposure in public buildings and homes, including cell phones and towers, microwave ovens, cordless phones, baby monitors, garage door openers, and wireless internet routers to name a few. Wireless networks exist at many public and private facilities in Estes Park. Numerous studies show that these other sources emit higher levels of RF emissions than smart meters.

AMR and AMI meters in use at Estes Park have significantly lower exposure levels than the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) limit. In addition, the new AMI meters that the Town is installing have fewer RF transmissions than the AMR meters they are replacing. A simple RF comparison is shown below (source: Pennsylvania Utilities Commission).

What is the Town of Estes Park doing to assess the potential health risks from smart meters?

We have reviewed data and relied on research from respected industry and health community sources, including Dr. Bruce Cooper from Larimer County Health Department who conducted an analysis for the City of Fort Collins Utilities in 2011.

The Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative states that over 25,000 articles have been published on RF emissions over the past 20 years. This creates a significant body of research and knowledge, including a study conducted by the California Council on Science &, Technology (CCST) titled, Health Impacts of Radio Frequency from Smart Meters.

Do smart meters cause fires?

Reports on the Internet describe a variety of instances of fires “caused” by smart meters in both the U.S. and Canada. The actual number of these fires is extremely small and the causes are less than clear. The most highly publicized case was connected to one vendor’s design, this meter is not in use at Estes Park. The rare meter fire can occur for multiple reasons, such as power surges, underlying wiring issues and old, worn sockets. An estimate of such failures is that approximately 0.0016% of installed smart meters have experienced a fire-related incident, again for the various reasons just mentioned. As an added safety measure, Estes Park personnel are conducting visual socket inspections on the installation of the upgraded meters.

Are smart meters UL listed?

Both the existing Itron AMR meters and the upgraded Tantalus AMI meters are compliant with the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI) C12.10 standard. This standard governs all aspects of electricity meters and specifies how these metering devices shall be tested and certified to ensure compliance with the standard. The ANSI C12.10 standard does include testing related to power surges, fast transients, etc. all of which help ensure the overall safety of the product. Meters are not consumer products and only trained professionals work with them.

The Town installs and maintains its electric distribution facilities, including smart meters, in a safe and efficient manner consistent with other electric utilities in the Front Range and uses state of the art equipment. The Town's electric facilities are installed by trained Journeymen Lineworkers, and all electric installations are inspected and approved by the State of Colorado Electrical Inspectors or Boulder County Electrical Inspectors.
 

Will this project impact my privacy?

No. The Town of Estes takes consumer privacy very seriously and complies with all local, state and federal regulations to protect our customers\' personal data and information. All customer information—including personal information, bill payment type or status, utility use, and more—are strictly protected, just as it has always been. The Town is subject to the Colorado Open Records Act, which governs the accessibility of public records.

The meters are primarily used to collect usage data and that in turn is used in monthly billing. Electric outage detection alarms and some water leak detection will allow us to better serve our customers. No specific devices within your home are monitored.

Project Costs and Funding
What are the cost impacts of the smart meter project?

The meter solution that was selected allows Estes Park to manage costs by gradually upgrading to the new meters over a period of time. This means that we do not have to hire a meter installation vendor to replace every meter. Our own utility staff will do the necessary work. This approach means that the smart meter project makes good business sense from day one.

The first two phases – the initial pilot project of 70 electric meters and limited deployment – are funded through cost savings on previous capital projects. Phase three scheduled meter replacement costs will be funded through the existing operations and maintenance of meter replacements.

Will this project increase my rates?

No. Project costs are being covered as described above. Other factors will influence utility rates in coming years, which are linked to:

  • The cost of fuel for generating electricity
  • The cost of chemicals for water treatment
  • Increasing regulatory requirements
  • Infrastructure maintenance
  • Capital replacement projects
  • System upgrades such as our ongoing installation of tree cable
How will this project help increase the efficiency of utility operations?

The meter staff consists of permanent two full-time staff and two contract full-time staff. The eventual elimination of drive-by meter reading is essential to increase work efficiencies and maintain the same level of service with the reduction in staff. In addition, we anticipate other operational efficiencies as more meters are installed over time, such as reduced electrical outage durations.

Environmental Considerations
What are the environmental impacts/benefits of this project?

When the full meter deployment is completed, the environmental benefit of the smart meter project primarily will result from avoiding the need to drive the service area to collect monthly reads for billing purposes, as well as service calls to gather final reads upon property transfer. We estimate the elimination of approximately 7,000 vehicle miles per year from monthly meter reading and another 10,000 miles per year from final reads and other service calls. Using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator based on a total savings of 17,000 miles per year equates to the annual equivalent carbon dioxide emissions from:

  • 1,200 gallons of gasoline consumed
  • 11,549 pounds of coal burned

Or, the greenhouse gas emissions from:

  • 3.8 tons of waste sent to the landfill
     
What is happening to the old meters?

Power and Communications is repurposing and/or disposing of the existing meters in an environmentally responsible manner:

  • Reusing AMR meters where possible to replace older defunct AMR meters within the Estes Park system 
  • Selling functional good condition AMR meters to other utilities
  • Recycling older AMR meters in accordance in accordance with local, state and federal regulations