FAQs AMI: Advanced Metering Infrastructure Program

Updated October 2018

Q:           What is AMI?

A:            Advanced Metering Infrastructure, or AMI, is the term used to describe the full set of technologies and systems that create two-way communication between members’ electrical meter and the utility’s billing, distribution and control systems. This is part of what’s typically called the “smart grid.” Historically, information and energy have flowed in one direction only – from the utility to the meter. With AMI, Central Electric and its members will have the ability to share information about energy usage in real time and, as a result, boost efficiency.

The new meters often are referred to as “smart meters” due to their ability to send and receive data. “Smart meters” are only one component of a “smart grid.”

Q:           How is Central Electric adopting AMI?

A:            CEC began replacing the electric meters at its members’ homes and businesses in January 2011 and completed installation in January 2013. All new meters added to the cooperative’s system are AMI meters. The coop also installed communication technology at its 25 substations to facilitate the transfer of use data from individual meters to Central Electric’s billing and data storage systems.

For a few months after the meter conversion, members’ meters continued to be read both manually and remotely.  This enabled our engineering, operations and technology professionals to test our communications systems and review the meters’ performance to ensure accuracy before moving to full deployment.

Q:           How do AMI meters affect my service?

A:            Other than a brief power outage at the time of installation, which was necessary to make the conversion safely, there has been no noticeable change in service.

Q:           How do I benefit from having a smart meter?

A:            Deploying smart meters to all of our members enables CEC to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively, which lowers costs and reduces pressure on members’ rates. Meter readers no longer have to enter your property for monthly meter readings. Trips by CEC personnel to your property will become rare events. This will reduce labor, fuel and vehicle costs. At the time the meters were installed, the cooperative estimated 150,000 vehicle miles were eliminated annually. This reduced carbon emission s by an estimated 900,000 tons. These estimates were made when the CEC system included approximately 32,000 meters. Today, those estimated mileage and emission reductions are even greater.

Meters are now read more regularly; increased frequency helps resolve billing disputes more easily.

In some cases, our ability to communicate with your meter also can give us precise information about the timing and location of outages, making some power restoration efforts more efficient. In such situations, we reduce line crews’ labor, fuel and vehicle costs because we are able to pinpoint outages more comprehensively and achieve total restoration faster.

Consumers are also able to monitor their electricity usage in daily measurements by going to a secure, password-protected portion of the CEC web site. Members can see the details of their electricity use by the hour, day, month and year. This information helps our members be better informed and therefore able to make better decisions about their electricity use behaviors and patterns.

Q:           Can I choose to not have a smart meter?

A:            All of our members’ homes and businesses need to be equipped with the new meters. The efficiency of our billing, technology and electrical system operations depend upon the instantaneous exchange of information, so all parts of our system must be integrated. Leaving any existing meters in place would create “holes” in our system that would hurt efficiency and drive up costs. When surveyed prior to CEC embarking on the conversion, more than 75 percent of our members said they were interested in having a meter installed that would enable them and the utility to access real time usage information.

Q:           What if I don’t want the utility monitoring my electricity usage?

A:            We always have monitored your electricity usage, except we used to measure it monthly and had to send a meter reader into the field to do so. With the new metering technology we can instantly monitor your electricity usage remotely and on-demand. Under routine circumstances we read the usage on a daily basis. We monitor on a bulk basis only – the sum total of how much electricity you used in a 24-hour period. We are not able to identify the specific ways you are using your electricity; we can only access gross usage data.

Q:           I have heard that people’s electricity bills went up after the new meters were installed. Is this true?

A:            In some instances, yes. This is because the old, mechanical meter was running slower than it should and therefore was giving artificially low usage readings. The new meters use electronics to measure usage and this resulted in a small number of customers having higher bills despite no change in their behavior, a direct result of more accurate metering. With no moving parts to wear down, the new meters will provide more accurate readings for a longer period of time. With the new AMI meters, all co-op members are more fairly billed for the actual amount of electricity used than may have happened during the era when electro-mechanical meters were read manually.

Q:           What about these stories about the utility controlling my thermostat and other electrical appliances?

A:            These are called demand-management programs and you are referring to possible programs that some utilities may offer in the future. Any such programs would require the customer to volunteer to participate. CEC has no plans to offer such programs in the near future and any such programs that CEC might someday choose to offer will depend on members’ voluntary participation.

The co-op already is involved in a pilot load management project that enables members in a limited geographic area to schedule times when electricity is turned off to their water heaters. The timers are installed in members’ homes at their request and are controlled by members with no control interface with CEC. Our Peak Project pilot has been conducted on a strictly volunteer basis and has achieved a strong record of member satisfaction. This demonstrates that any efforts we undertake will be based on voluntary participation and that any such programs needn’t depend on smart meters or AMI technology to be successful.

Q:           Did the new meter program raise my rates?

A:            No, this program did not drive any changes in rates. Any changes in rates will not be driven by this program. Approximately half of the program’s costs are being paid by a federal stimulus grant. The other half was funded under CEC’s capital budget at the time. Today, all metering related expenses are captured in our ongoing budgets.

Q:           I have heard that signals emitted from the new meters pose a health hazard. Do Central Electric’s new meters put me at risk?

 A:            Some utility customers in other parts of the country raise concerns that wireless transmissions from AMI meters pose a health risk. While this is a hotly debated issue and has not been fully resolved, there is a major distinction between the technology in question in these other areas and that used by Central Electric. Allegations of health impacts are directed at meters using wireless technology to send data from the meter to the utility. Central Electric is using wired technology; the data is sent over the existing power line that is bringing electricity to the home or business. There is no signal transmitted from the meter via the airwaves.

We utilize the low frequency 60-hertz power line signal on our existing wired infrastructure as the carrier for our meter-to-substation communications. Our decision was based in practicality and wise economics. With our low customer density, vast 5,300 square-mile service area, and its rugged terrain, wireless technology would have been a very expensive and less reliable option. Using the existing wired infrastructure was a much better option for Central Electric and our members.