Advanced Meter FAQ
You may have questions about our plans to upgrade to advanced meters. As the project unfolds, we will update this page to include new information. Please check back periodically.
Last updated Jan. 19, 2021
- Why is TPU upgrading to advanced meters?
Advanced meters support a variety of benefits that allow you more flexibility, the ability to control your water and energy costs, and help us operate more efficiently. Many of the power and water meters in our system today use technology that hasn’t changed much over the last 75 years. Old technology limits the services available. Most of our meters have reached the end of their lifespan and need to be updated to provide you with reliable service. Advanced meter technology also addresses requests we have received from you and your neighbors for additional features.
- What are advanced meters and how do they work?
Advanced meters are a two communication device that measures and transmits electric and water usage data to provide us with accurate billing determinants and detailed system information. This data is also used during a storm event or other system disruption, to restore service quicker and reduce the length of outages and system emergencies.
Advanced meters connect to homes and businesses and measure usage information. The meters communicate usage information over a wireless network between the meter and the utility. This means that:
- Advanced meters record your usage information throughout the day, just as your current meter does.
- Residential usage information is sent to TPU up to 24 times per day using radio frequency transmission. This is similar to the wireless communications used by cell phones and WiFi.
- What are the benefits of advanced meters?
The installation of advanced meters can offer many customer benefits. Some of the benefits available using this technology include monthly billing, selectable bill date, faster outage and leak detection, prepayment options, remote turn-on and turn-off for easier move in, move out, and reconnection, and detailed, near real-time usage information through a customer web portal.
We are still finalizing the vendor agreements for our project, so the confirmed list of features that you will have access to is not yet available. We will keep you informed as the contracts are finalized.
- Have other utilities installed advanced meters?
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 78.9 million electric meters throughout the United States were upgraded to advanced meters as of 2017. That number has continued to grow as more utilities and their customers recognize the many benefits of investing in a mature technology. In the Pacific Northwest, several utilities have or are currently installing advanced meters.
- Will the advanced meters affect how I use energy and water?
Timely usage data can help you make more informed decisions and potentially lower your bills by using water and energy more efficiently. Other utilities have seen an increase in customer satisfaction as a result.
- How do advanced meters impact meter readers?
Like you, we’re concerned about the employees who read your meters. Our goal is to minimize or avoid job loss for our permanent meter reader staff. We’re working to identify existing opportunities and build new skills so these employees can fill needed positions at the utility as they come up.
- What if I don’t want an advanced meter? (Opt-out)
We are committed to high quality customer service and have developed an Opt-Out Policy to provide you with options.
Two opt-out options are available if you do not wish to participate in advanced metering for you residential electric meter.
- To temporarily keep an existing legacy electric meter, you must opt-out before your meter has been upgraded to an advanced meter.
- If you do not want a communicating advanced meter after your meter has been upgraded, you have the option to opt-out and have your advanced meter’s radio frequency transmitter turned off.
Opting-out will require you to pay a monthly fee of $15. This fee is based on TPU’s cost to provide opt-out service and continue manual meter reading of your opt-out meter.
TPU is not planning to offer an advanced metering opt-out option for water.
To request a paper opt-out application, please email TPUCSBillingOfficeTeam@cityoftacoma.org or call 253-502-8509.
- When will meters be installed?
Advanced meter installation is expected to begin late-2020 and finish in 2022, although the timeline could shift as project details are determined. The schedule for advanced meter installation will be posted and updated on MyTPU.org/AdvancedMeters. Once the implementation is complete, we will focus on launching advanced operational and customer-focused features.
- What areas will receive the new advanced meters first?
We have not yet determined who will be the first to receive the new advanced meters. Deployment planning begins later this year. The strategy will focus on accelerating benefits to our customers and realizing operational efficiencies from advanced metering. We will share the plan when it is complete.
- There was a service person at my house today. Has TPU started upgrading their meters?
No, installation of TPU’s advanced meters is scheduled to start late-2020. Do you have natural gas in your home? If yes, Puget Sound Energy is upgrading their approximately 40,000 gas meters in Tacoma. If you have questions, you can reach them at 1-833-370-3464.
Residential and Commercial Meter Upgrades
- What can I expect during the meter upgrade?
- What are you doing to ensure my health and safety during the meter upgrade?
The health and safety of our customers and staff during the pandemic is top priority while our Meter Technicians work to improve our infrastructure and enhance your service. The installer will knock on your door, and then step back to maintain appropriate physical distancing. They carry an ID badge and will wear proper protective gear, including face coverings and gloves, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They will not need to enter your home for the upgrade.
Whether you are home or not, the installer will leave behind a notice indicating the upgrade was successful or requesting that you call if the meter could not be replaced. The notification will be placed on your door with gloved hands.
- How will I know when my meter is scheduled for upgrade?
You will receive multiple notifications by mail prior to your meter upgrade with information about what to expect during the upgrade. You will also receive an autodial message from the meter installation vendor two days prior to your meter upgrade.
- How long will the meter upgrade take?
For residential customers, the electric meter installation will average 15 minutes. The water meter installation will average between 15 and 30 minutes.
For commercial customers, the electric meter upgrade will average 30 minutes. Commercial water meter upgrades take between thirty minutes to eight hours, depending on the meter size.
- Will I be without service during the meter upgrade?
Residential customers will experience a brief interruption of power service during the upgrade and may need to reset your clocks and turn certain equipment such as computers back on after the installation is completed. You won’t have water service during the meter upgrade. If your home has an accessible exterior spigot, the installer will run water for a short time after installation to release any air caught in the line, if you do not have an exterior spigot, you will be asked to complete this step using an inside faucet.
Your water will be safe to use after the upgrade, but running your cold water after installation from a large faucet such as a bathtub should clear any small amount of air or discoloration that might occur.
Not all commercial upgrades will require an interruption of service. If exchanging the meters requires an interruption of service, our installers will attempt to make contact in person or over the phone at the time of the meter replacement. We may require separate appointments for electric and water meter upgrades if you receive both services from TPU.
- Do I need to be onsite for the meter upgrade?
No one needs to be present for the meter upgrade, unless a meter reader typically needs someone to provide access to your meter.
- What if I need to be home to give the installer access?
If your meter is not accessible and TPU does not have access (such as behind a locked gate and TPU does not have a key/code), please call 253-502-8509 to schedule an appointment.
- Where is my electric meter?
Residential electric meters are typically located on the side or back of your house.
Commercial and Industrial electric meters are located on the outside of your building, in a meter room, or inside your business. The technician will work with you to gain access to the meter if it is not located outside your building
- Where is my water meter?
Residential water meters are typically located in front of the house, near the sidewalk or street.
Most commercial water meters are located at or near the front of the business. Some meters downtown are located on the street, at the rear of the building. For some locations, there may be more than one water meter
- What part of the water service is TPU’s responsibility and what is mine?
Looking at the picture above, the blue water main, service line, and water meter are what Tacoma Public Utilities owns and maintains. You own and are responsible for the property side service lines and plumbing, shown above in orange.
- What part of the electric service is TPU’s responsibility and what part is mine?
Looking at the picture above, the red pole, power and distribution lines, transformer to the service line and meter are what Tacoma Public Utilities owns and maintains. You own and are responsible for the property side equipment, shown in green. Blue represents non-utility owned equipment, typically cable, phone, or internet providers.
- What if a problem with my portion of the water or electric service equipment is discovered during the meter upgrade?
TPU has developed a customer side repair policy, which will be in place for the duration of the project. Under the policy, TPU, at its discretion, will replace customer owned equipment required to complete the upgrade, including items such as meter socket, jaws or meter post for electric service and up to three feet of customer owned pipe and meter box adjustments for water service. (see pictures in previous two questions)
The policy includes grant and loan options to assist homeowners with larger water repairs and replacements. For more information on the full policy go to MyTPU.org/AdvancedMeters or call 253-502-8509.
- Is there anything I need to do prior to the meter upgrade?
For your electric meter, please ensure nothing blocks access to the meter, such as locked gates, locked doors, trees and bushes. If you have pets, please keep them inside during the upgrade. The installer will need 18 inches of clearance on each side and 36 inches in front of your meter.
For your water meter, please make sure there is nothing blocking access to the meter, including rock or retaining walls, fences, trees, shrubs or plants, locked gates, or vehicles over the meter. We suggest at least four feet of clearance around your meter.
- Who do I contact if there is a problem after my meter upgrade?
If you experience any issues after the meter upgrade, call 253-502-8509.
- Who will be doing the meter upgrade?
Either a certified installer from Tribus, a TPU authorized installation contractor, or a TPU employee, will perform the upgrade. The installer will knock on your door to let you know they are there to upgrade your meter(s). All installers will carry an ID badge.
- Will the installer need to come into my house/business?
The installer will knock on your door, but will not need to come inside to complete the upgrade.
For commercial upgrades, it will depend on where the meter is located. Our installers will attempt to make contact at the time of the meter replacement
- What if I can’t accommodate an unplanned service interruption?
We understand planned service interruptions can be disruptive. You can schedule an appointment for your upgrade, if a short, planned service interruption will seriously impact you. Once you receive notification about your upcoming meter upgrade, please call 253-502-8509 to schedule an appointment for your upgrade.
- Will I be charged if my power is off longer than 15-minutes?
No, you will not be charged for the time your power is off during the upgrade.
- Will there be any disturbance to my yard, trees or plants during the water meter upgrade?
Most water meter upgrades will have no impact on the surrounding landscape. In rare instances, water meters that require maintenance before upgrade or that have had landscaping directly beside the water meter box may require minimal disturbance of the surrounding landscape. If this occurs, every effort will be made to leave the area in the same or better condition than we found it.
Health & Safety
- Are advanced meters safe?
Yes! The meters we plan to install have two temperature sensors and an automatic high-temperature disconnect that shuts the meter off in an emergency situation. These meters also have multiple sensing capabilities that send an alarm in the rare event that there is an abnormal condition with the meter. These meters are subject to rigorous, advanced testing. Electric meters come equipped with a variety of alarms and safety features in the rare event of a malfunction.
- Should I be concerned about radio frequency?
Advanced meters transmit data via radio frequency up to 24 times per day. The advanced meters emit radio frequency only when they transmit data, which is typically less than 1 minute per day.
Significant scientific research has been conducted on radio frequency (RF) for over 50 years. A study by Washington State University determined the amount of energy absorbed from advanced meter radio frequency is substantially less than the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) safety guidelines, even when the body and meter are in close proximity.
According to a study conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology, “wireless smart meters result in much smaller levels of RF exposure than many existing common household electronic devices, particularly cell phones and microwave ovens.”
Privacy & Security
- How will you protect my privacy?
We take your privacy very seriously. No customer-identifying data – such as names and addresses – is stored in the meters or transmitted across the network.
Just like the current meters, the advanced meters will simply collect how much energy and water is being used. The advanced meters encrypt energy and water use information to ensure privacy, and transmit it to TPU over a wireless network with multiple layers of security.
- How will you use the data collected from my meter?
We must collect data from the meters to provide service. Like today, the data will be used only for billing purposes, operational analysis and planning. TPU will not sell any customer data. If you choose, third-party providers may be allowed access under strict controls for purposes of providing enhanced services to you.
- How much will the advanced meters cost and how will they impact rates?
The updated, estimated cost for the project’s multi-year deployment is about $80 million, which includes additional costs to TPU for new meters, software, communications equipment and labor.
The operational savings associated with advanced meters offset the overall cost, as it is more expensive to maintain aging meters and continue manual reads than to replace them with advanced meters. By the end of the 20-year lifecycle for the new metering system, TPU expects this to result in a positive financial benefit to the utility, which ultimately benefits customers.
Costs for advanced meters are already factored into current customer rates. The additional cost each year for the next ten years is about 8 cents per month for the average residential power customer, 11 cents per month for the average residential water customer in the City of Tacoma, and 13 cents per month for the average residential water customer outside the City of Tacoma.
- Will advanced meters change the way you charge for service?
The only planned change is to move from a two month billing cycle to a one month billing cycle. Based on our research and customer survey data, customers greatly prefer monthly billing. We look forward to offering this convenience.
- Do I have to pay for the new meter to be installed at my home or business?
There is no cost for the meter or installation. Overall project costs and savings are factored into the long-term budgeting process.