Meter reading tradition ends at Community Electric Cooperative

Published 12:06 pm Wednesday, June 28, 2017

By Jennifer Saunders

Smithfield Times Intern

The switch to automated meter reading b Community Electric Cooperative is welcomed by some customers, but viewed with apprehension by others.

The cooperative recently announced that customers would no longer have to read their own meters beginning this month.

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The decades-old rural tradition is coming to an end as technology continues to evolve. For years, Community Electric Cooperative members were tasked with going outside to record the kilowatt hour tally showing on their meter and record it on their bills, which would then be mailed to the co-op. Each month’s bill was based on the reading sent in the previous month.

With the new Automated Meter Infrastructure (AMI), a customer’s usage information is transmitted directly to the Windsor’s cooperative’s office. The system also allows staff to track individual outages to those that are more widespread. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“It will be so nice not to have to worry about it,” said Community Electric customer Linda Asper. Asper said that she was not aware that users would need to read their own meters when she moved to Windsor until after her first bill came in at $500 after a couple of months.

“When I lived in Virginia Beach my bill would always come up online. I’m thrilled that I won’t have to report my numbers anymore,” she said.

While users like Asper are excited for the convenience of the AMI system, others are content knowing that the usage will no longer be working under the honor system.

Community Electric customer Tanya Williams believes that the new system will also allow more access to their reading reports.

“When I hooked power up to the trailer behind my house, there was no one living in it. I forgot to read the meter for the unit and was charged around $700 for estimated power usage. This new system will create more accountability for the company,” said Williams.

Some Windsor residents, though, are fearful of the change. Windsor resident Mary Philips said that the co-op office could possibly have more control over usage when using AMI.

“They could shut off the power anytime they want,” said Philips. She posed the hypothetical situation of having a family member using automated oxygen tanks, and asked what would happen if Community Electric could flip a switch and shut off power whenever the company believes that customers are using too much energy.

Jessica Parr, manager of communications with Community Electric, said the cooperative does not determine what ‘too much use’ is for any particular meter, as long as the facilities can support the load.

The meters being used can monitor the load being delivered and can be programmed to disconnect the service if the demand exceeds the rated level of the meter’s safe capacity, but CEC decided not to use that feature, Parr said. 

“The NEC (National Electric Code) standard should prevent this from happening based on the main breaker that is protecting the member’s service. This would be for a member using too much in an instantaneous moment in time,” Parr said.

“Because of the vast capabilities of the meters that Community selected for installation, we will be equipped to assist members who have concerns that they are ‘using too much’ by providing daily/hourly consumption and voltage data,” Parr said.

Dominion Energy, which also serves customers in Isle of Wight County, has automated “smart meter” reading capability in a few test areas, such as Richmond, Charlottesville, Williamsburg, Northern Virginia, the Blue Ridge region and parts of northeastern North Carolina, according to Bonita Harris, spokesperson for Dominion.

In other areas, including Isle of Wight, Dominion employs the traditional meter reader, Harris said.

Along with this change, the cooperative is switching from mailing its bills to the entire membership at the same time each month to spreading that out over a four-week period.

That is, a fourth of the co-op’s more than 11,000 accounts will be mailed a bill the first week of the month, the second fourth will be billed on the second week and so on, according to Brenda Mansfield, manager of member services with Community Electric Cooperative.

The change will make monitoring electricity usage more effective for the cooperative staff. The AMI system will also allow the co-op to track outages so electricity may be restored more quickly.

And with the new system, meters would alert staff that there is an outage — whether it’s an individual meter, a more widespread area or an entire substation, Mansfield said.

Community Electric Cooperative was founded in 1938 to provide electricity to the rural areas of southeastern Virginia.

Today, the cooperative serves the rural areas of Isle of Wight and Southampton counties, the city of Suffolk and portions of Sussex and Surry counties.  {/mprestriction}