Pacific Power’s smart meter installations to start

Pacific Power, the power supply company that contracts with the City of Lebanon to provide electricity to the municipal area, will be installing smart meters on all homes in its district starting Monday, Feb. 19.

Initial response from the community through social media has raised concerns about the imposed change. Some have worried that the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in or near a home will increase to a dangerous level, while others have cited concerns that the meter will monitor how power is being used in the home.

“It’s smart, but not that smart,” said Tom Gauntt, media spokesman for Pacific Power. “We don’t want to know (how electricity is being used) because that gets into privacy stuff.”

While there are gadgets available on the market that can gauge power use, that is something a person would purchase and deal with himself, Gauntt noted. Regarding EMF levels, the meters use the same low radio frequency that a cell phone does.

“Just like you have cell phone towers, in the last year or so, building up to this, we have created receivers strategically placed around that will collect the little transmissions from the smart meters,” he said.

The essential purpose of the smart grid, as a whole, is to balance power creation and distribution in a more efficient manner, Gauntt said.

“If ‘X’ amount is being produced under this whole big system, it has to meet demand,” he said.

Until about five years ago, there used to be a room full of technicians monitoring power usage, Gauntt said. When they noticed a large surge of power being used in a particular location, they’d contact other power providers to request more electricity.

Pacific Power’s electricity is created in a number of ways, including hydro and wind power plants, and thermal and kinetic plants. The power is created, but is not easily stored in large quantity, so companies must be able to balance the amount of electricity being produced with the amount of demand that ebbs and flows.

The smart grid, Gauntt said, provides a more efficient way for manufactured power to find a home, so to speak, and essentially becomes itself that room full of technicians monitoring power use.

“A smart grid might have a lot of that balancing taking place with computer chips,” he said.

The power company is eager for some of the benefits they will see with the smart meters, most notably the fact they will be able to pinpoint and repair outages much faster, Gauntt said.

The excitement for customers might lie in the fact they can measure their electric use daily, or even hourly, rather than just by the month.

If you have a Super Bowl party one day, or you purchase a dehumidifier for the basement, or you plug in your Christmas lights for the winter, that can have an effect on your bill.

“You can start experimenting and determining ‘what’s the real cost in my house for making those kinds of decisions?’” he said.

Another concern raised in social media forums was that rates will increase, or a “Time of Use” rate structure will be imposed.

Pacific Power is under the jurisdiction of the state Public Utilities Commission and cannot change its rates without approval, Gauntt said. Rates are the same statewide, but there might be a local franchise fee that changes from city to city.

Pacific Power currently has no plans to pursue a rate change request with the PUC, but Gauntt pointed out that customers already can choose to use a “Time of Use” rate structure, if they so desire.

Customers who opt for Time of Use pay lower prices during non-peak hours and can save money by significantly reducing energy use on weekdays.

The peak/non-peak structure has been in use for several years, yet only a very few number of people have chosen to use it.

Those who do not want to be set up with the smart meter will have an opt-out option that will cost them a one-time fee plus a monthly charge to have a meter reader enter their property.

“In some ways it reflects the cost that everyone is paying now to have a meter reader come to your house every month,” Gauntt said.

“For those who opt out, should the cost of that be borne by the rest who install them?”

While installation of the meters is free to the customer, it’s costing Pacific Power more than $100 million to purchase and install them, he said.

Pacific Power currently employs about 200 meter readers, but only about 50 of them will be redeployed within the company, he said. They have been given advance notice of this plan in order to prepare those who may lose their job.

Pacific Power began installing the first of its 590,000 smart meters in Independence, and is working its way to Lebanon and the surrounding area. They will install in Lebanon from Feb. 19 to March 9, and in Sweet Home from March 5 to 16.

For further information, visit www.pacificpower.net/smartmeter.