Consumers to install local smart meters by April

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

Consumers Energy has accelerated its plan to replace its customers’ analog electricity meters across Michigan with smart meters.

The company recently announced that, by the end of 2017—two years earlier than originally scheduled—1.8 million electricity meters will be updated along with 600,000 natural gas meters.

Dennis McKee, communications director with the company’s Smart Energy Program said most routes in northwest Allegan County were completed in 2013.

McKee said work is slated for this year in Dorr, Leighton, Salem, Wayland and the north portion of Hopkins townships and is expected to be completed by February 2015.

He said Allegan, Casco, Cheshire, Clyde, Ganges, Lee, Martin, Otsego, Trowbridge, Valley, Watson, and most of Gun Plain townships will be completed by April 2015, including the cities and villages encompassed by the townships.

Consumers Energy said customers can expect a postcard approximately 30 days before their installation and a letter approximately 14 days before installation.

On the day of the install, the employee doing the work will hang a note on the door letting customers know if the installation was successful or not. In the latter case, it will explain why.

Consumers Energy said customers don’t need to be home for the replacement, which takes a few minutes, but may call to make appointments if they choose.

The new meters will send encrypted, daily notifications of total energy use on the household or business wirelessly to the company. This is expected to eliminate the need for employees to manually check each meter to track usage.

The devices drew criticism locally in 2013 from those who doubt those transmissions are safe to the homes’ occupants. They are also concerned about the energy use data being stolen or sold to other businesses.

County commissioners passed a resolution urging legislators “to carefully consider all relevant information, including but not limited to, health, business and other information” when considering House Bill 4315. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Technology in February 2013; no action has been taken since on it.

McKee said the bill was unnecessary and restrictive and that the transmissions from smart meters were at very low energy levels—comparable to sending an email or text message from a cell phone.

In June 2013, the Michigan Public Service Commission signed off on fees for opting out of the new meters. If the meter has already been installed, customers must pay a one-time fee of $123.91; if they notify Consumers before the installation, the fee is $69.39.

Thereafter, the household will be required to pay a $9.72 monthly charge. In filings, Consumers said it pursued the monthly fee to cover its costs to continue to check the meter manually.

More than 275,000 west Michigan residents and small business owners have received upgraded meters since summer 2012.

Garrick Rochow, Consumers Energy’s vice president of customer operations and quality, said, “Our high customer satisfaction and growing customer interest in the benefits of the new meters are moving us to speed up our original schedule.”

Those with the new meters can set up a password-protected account with the company to track their energy use and predict their bills.

Rochow said, “Advanced meter technology will enable us to broaden future program opportunities for business customers who can benefit from time-of-use pricing, as well as help them tailor their electrical equipment needs around money-saving programs.”

The company hopes to launch a system in 2016 that will use the immediate outage notifications from the new meters to more effectively start repairs during storms. The company plans eventually to allow customers to choose their own billing dates and utilize other energy-saving programs.

Consumers Energy provides natural gas and electricity to 6.5 million of the state’s 10 million residents in the Lower Peninsula.

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