Consumers Energy plan to upgrade meters next year

FLINT TWP. — Meter readers will become a thing of the past for most Consumers Energy customers in Genesee County some time next year,

Implementation of a high-tech Smart Energy Program that began in 2012 in the western part of the state is now being amped up for statewide completion by the end of 2017, said Dennis McKee, a Consumer’s spokesperson is a presentation to the township board Monday night. He said he is making the rounds to municipalities countywide to inform them about this new communication upgrade to meters that will use cell phone technology to securely transmit usage information directly to Consumers.

Consumers expects to begin the meter updates in Genesee County by mid-summer 2015, McKee said. Customers should look for a large blue postcard notice in the mail about 30 days in advance of the installation, he said. They will receive another informational letter about 14 days in advance. Homeowners don’t need to be at home during the changeover, which will require the power to be shut off for three to five minutes, he said.

If the installation is successfully completed a green notification tag will be left on the door. If for some reason, the installation is not completed, such as a menacing dog in the yard, a blue notice will be left informing the homeowner to make an appointment for the installation to be completed, he said.

More than 360,000 West Michigan residents and small business owners have received upgraded meters. By the end of 2017 Consumers aims to complete 1.8 million electric meter updates along with 600,000 natural gas meters for customers who also have Consumers Energy electric service, according to a Consumers press release.

“We are seeing excellent performance from meters we have already installed, enabling us to bring enhanced service to more customers sooner,” said Lisa DeLacy, Consumers Energy’s executive director of smart energy.

Energy use information being transmitted to Consumers Energy enhances billing accuracy and virtually eliminating the need for physical meter reads. Customers can go online, with passwords, to track their energy use, manage energy efficiency and predict monthly bills.

In 2016, Consumers Energy will launch an enhanced outage management system, using immediate outage notifications from the new meters to more effectively start repairs after storms. Customers will also be able to choose their own billing dates in the future and take advantage of other energy-saving programs.

That means that customers won’t have to call when there is a power outage because the meters will transmit the information, McKee said. Consumers will know when the power is out, even if the customer is not at home.

McKee also said that contrary to myths, the meter upgrades are not a national security intrusion. The meters will not give Consumers information about how electricity is being used in the home.

Still, Consumers anticipates that about one-half of one percent of its customers will want to continue using older meter technology. They will have the option of enrolling in the manual meter reading program, which requires ongoing monthly meter reads at a cost of $9.72 and a one-time cost of $69.39 to maintain the programs to support continuing to use the older meters.

Police Chief George Sippert asked several questions about the installation process.

For one, he wanted to know if police can expect entry alarms going off during the installation process.

McKee said that commercial and industrial customers can make appointments to be on hand to handle alarm systems during the meter upgrade.

Chief Sippert also asked if the technology could be used to turn power off remotely.

McKee said that it can be used to turn it off or on. That means new homeowners will not have to wait for a truck crew to come out to turn power on. In the event of a shutoff for nonpayment of utility bills, customers will not have to wait days for a crew to come out and turn power back on.

However, it does not mean instant turnoffs, McKee said. Consumers will follow the same shut-off timeline it now has, as set by the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Chief Sippert also asked about emergency shutoffs such as when power needs to be cut at a building that is on fire.

McKee said he did not want to overstate the capabilities of the system but emergency shutoffs are being looked at as part of the potential.

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