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Meter replacement concerns residents

 

Last updated 11/11/2020 at 11:02am



A wave of visits and notices to utility customers in Fountain neighborhoods recently has some people on edge. Concerns about smart meters have resurfaced, as have complaints about the city’s intentions.

However, utility officials say this activity has nothing to do with smart meters – it’s simply part of an ongoing effort to replace outdated and sometimes malfunctioning equipment.

“We’re not the big bad utility company wanting to come in and shut people’s utilities off,” said Fountain Utilities Communications Specialist Erin Garcia.

The rumors began about a week ago when several people discussing the issue on the Nextdoor App said they were told their old meters were being replaced with smart meters. One man said he was told his water would be shut off if he did not comply.

However, the new water meters are not the same type of technology used in the city’s newer AMI (smart) electric meters. In 2013-2014 many residents opposed to smart meters were able to secure a city resolution providing a permanent opt-out for those who did not want the new type of meters on their property. The opt-out still remains for those wishing to exercise it. Customers would need to call Utilities to arrange that.

The city has been upgrading its existing water meters over the last couple of years due to the meters reaching the end of their lifespan. The changeout has ramped up in the last year due to more noticeable meter failure, Garcia said.

The old meters are a Neptune 900, and the new ones are a Neptune i-900 – simply the next level of the same technology. The new meters are not capable of two-way communication; they do, however, have an extended data storage capacity of 96 days.

“It has the ability to send data to Utilities, but that’s it; it can’t do anything else,” Garcia said.

With the old meters, utility workers have to drive by to read them. Sometimes, if a meter is not working correctly, the worker will need to stop and get closer with a handheld device. In some cases the water bill will be estimated if the meter is in very bad condition.

Garcia said those cases are a high priority for changeouts. Otherwise, the city is targeting neighborhoods by their billing cycle – which explains why residents in certain areas are receiving notices around the same time.

The new meters should benefit customers and workers, and the replacement takes just 10-15 minutes, Garcia said.

“Right now if you have an old meter and you have a water leak, we don’t know until we read your meter the next month,” she said. “This allows us to see your data more quickly, so if we see an insane spike we can identify a possible water leak much more quickly.”

Leslie Inge is one of many Fountain residents to have received a visit for a water meter replacement recently. While he didn’t hesitate to make an appointment, he later became concerned about what he read online.

Some neighbors said that a utility worker told them their service would be cut off if they didn’t make the switch, and others said they were told their billing would be based on estimates.

Most alarmingly, many of the comments indicated that the new meters would be “smart meters,” which some people oppose for health or privacy concerns. Whether the term “smart meter” was actually used by employees is unclear, but officials say that’s certainly not accurate.

In his case, Inge said a customer service employee told him his meter was not working, but he said there has been no evidence of either a malfunction or estimating on his bills. Inge is more concerned about being told one thing by Utilities but seeing another story on the data and is afraid employees are not being up front about what’s going on.

With regard to threats of disconnection, the city says that is a last resort. Garcia said Utilities makes numerous attempts to contact customers with phone numbers and email addresses on file, in addition to notes left at the home.

Even then, a failing meter would result in Utilities estimating usage for as long as possible before resorting to disconnection, and “in all circumstances we try to work out a solution; the estimation is not intended to be punitive,” Garcia said.

More smart meter information

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, AMI “smart” meters includes meters that measure and record electricity usage at a minimum of hourly intervals and that provide the data to both the utility and the utility customer at least once a day. AMI installations range from basic hourly interval meters to real-time meters with built-in two-way communication that is capable of recording and transmitting instantaneous data.

When Fountain installed smart electric meters, most of that was done around the same time. About 700 customers opted out.

Gas smart meters through Black Hills Energy were already implemented a number of years ago.

 

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