The Glasgow Electric Plant Board has all but eliminated its use of meter readers who physically check addresses to determine monthly usage as it transitions to a web-based system that it hopes will result in more economical power consumption.
Three men who had contracted with EPB to do the job for the last several years reached the end of their agreements Feb. 28 and won’t be replaced. Instead, EPB is relying on Internet-based metering that feeds usage data to a computer system every 15 minutes. Nearly every meter has been replaced; fewer than 100 of the old models remain.
EPB Superintendent Billy Ray said the utility has been “dabbling” in Internet-based metering for more than a decade. About that same time, a decision was made to not hire any more meter readers as part of the staff. As those who EPB already employed moved on, they were replaced with contract workers.
Meanwhile, about three years ago, EPB found web-based meters that were reliable and cost-effective enough for use systemwide. The installations began in earnest in 2011 and were expected to take four years, but it will actually be closer to three, Ray said.
The change is expected to ultimately alter the way EPB customers’ bills are calculated.
EPB, like most electric companies, charges customers for kilowatt hours at the same rate, regardless of when the power is used. Meanwhile, Tennessee Valley Authority, from which EPB purchases most of its power, meters EPB minute by minute, Ray said. During peak usage hours, TVA has to power up more generation sources, which costs the supplier more, Ray said, and the wholesale rate TVA charges depends on the demand for usage at that particular time.
When EPB customers’ usage is high during peak times, it costs the utility more. This is why EPB informs customers via Facebook posts and emails when peak times are expected, asking them to reduce power consumption during those hours, Ray said.
With the new meters, EPB receives nearly “real-time” consumption data and can determine which customers are making an effort to cut usage.
“A lot of people are responding, and they save the community money, but they don’t really get any [individual] benefit out of that,” Ray said. “But a lot of people ignore it, but they’re charged the same way.”
The new billing method would reward with a lower rate the customers who try to use less during peak times and would charge a higher rate to those who don’t.
“So, we can start charging retail the way we’re charged for wholesale,” Ray said.
He has little sympathy for those who don’t want to, for example, get up at 7 a.m. if they don’t otherwise have to just to turn down thermostats before peak hours hit, because programmable thermostats are available for purchase.
An alternative to buying a programmable thermostat is to enroll in a study through which EPB provides a thermostat to 200 homes. The applications have been included with billing statements for two or three months, and certain eligibility requirements must be met. Ray said at least 100 homes are still needed for the study.
Residents give permission to EPB to manipulate the thermostat remotely to promote more economical usage. The option exits to override the settings, but the residents in 20 homes that have been involved a similar study seldom do so, he said.
As part of the 20-home study, he uses an example from August, when two homes – virtually identical in size and shape and on the same street – used the same amount of power and were billed the same amount. One of the homes was in a control group that wasn’t making changes in regard to peak times, while the other was. Ray said the control group home lost EPB about $40, while the other one saved EPB about that much.
The 200-home study with the provided thermostats is scheduled to be a two-year test period and is meant to help EPB determine whether it can reliably communicate with the thermostats. Ray said he would like for all of the devices to be installed before summer weather starts.
But programmable thermostat or not, the new billing method would provide a financial incentive for customers to adjust their usage.
The new meters don’t just allow EPB to track customers’ energy consumption; the customer can keep an eye on it as well by logging into a website. The system can also send email updates regarding usage.
“It’s pretty cool,” Ray said. “I’m pretty proud of it.”
He’s hoping to have enough data from the new meters to propose new retail rates to his board of directors and TVA by the end of the year.
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