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Commission Report - Advanced Meters: Concerns & Clarifications

Commission Report - Advanced Meters: Concerns & Clarifications

by Mason PUD 3 on

February 07, 2017

A few customers have expressed concerns about "smart meters" being installed in Mason County. PUD 3 staff addressed those concerns and clarified misinformation.

Scroll through the slides from the presentation here.

Mason PUD 3’s Grid Modernization Project Focuses on Reliability, Safety, and Security

(SHELTON, WA) – Mason PUD 3’s grid modernization project is well underway. In response to a recent customer concern about the safety of the meters being installed and protection of customer privacy, PUD 3 commissioners directed staff to provide a public presentation addressing those concerns.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Justin Holzgrove, PUD 3 engineering services and community relations manager, said the PUD took exceptional care to adopt a privacy policy to protect customers. This means only those authorized, including the customer, may have access to energy usage data. The data is encrypted for secure transfer of meter readings to the PUD. No customer information is stored in the meter (e.g. name, address, account number).

Holzgrove also explained that there is a distinct difference between “smart” meters, the basis of the concern, and the PUD’s new “advanced” meters that are being installed. He explained that the PUD’s meters are configured to take readings of customer energy use at the whole building level; not interact with appliances or devices in a home.

Koral Miller, PUD 3 engineering project manager and metering specialist, told those in attendance that during meter replacement, accredited staff inspect the meter base and connections for safety. If defects are found, the PUD replaces the customer-owned meter base. This ensures safe and reliable operation of the new equipment.

Miller also addressed the transfer of data via radio waves. She noted the advanced meters typically send encrypted usage reads at midnight each day, which takes just 48 milliseconds. As such, the radio frequency emissions are extremely brief. Their intensity is much less than a laptop computer, Wi-Fi router, microwave oven, or a cell phone:

  • Even though the emissions from meters are 100,000 times less than a cell phone, it is common practice to equate cell phone emissions to meter emissions.
  • The World Health Organization, the National Cancer Institute, and American Cancer Society agree that cell phones are not harmful to human health.
  • 15 minutes of cell phone usage ≈ 375 years of advanced meter exposure.
  • Following this logic, if cell phone emissions have been deemed safe for human exposure, then the radio frequency emissions from advanced meters, which is significantly less powerful and less present than cell phones, must also be deemed safe.

Miller showed the group a handheld meter used by PUD 3 staff to measure radio frequency emissions from various electronic devices. Miller explained that at about three inches from the face of the meter, there was no recordable RF exposure. She offered to host a field trip after the meeting to a nearby advanced meter, so others can verify for themselves that measured emissions are far below the FCC maximum allowable. There were also analog, digital, and advanced meters on display for those in attendance to inspect.

Although new advanced meters are the most visible part of the project, Holzgrove said customers throughout the entire electrical distribution system will benefit. He explained that upgrades mean more efficient voltage regulation to reduce energy waste; faster outage response and restoration times; a customer’s direct access to information about their energy use; and future automation opportunities for the local electricity distribution system. Continued efficiency improvements within the PUD 3 power grid will help to mitigate the impact of future rate increases from the Bonneville Power Administration.

Planning for PUD 3’s grid modernization began in the 1990’s. It is funded by savings in capital bond fund projects, which are specifically designated for grid modernization.

Details of the Mason PUD 3 grid modernization project are available at www.pud3.org/gridmod.