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. 15, 2020
- 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?
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.
- How do advanced meters work?
Advanced meters connect to homes and businesses and collect 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.
- Usage information is sent to TPU 6-9 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 much will the advanced meters cost and how will they impact rates?
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.
The updated estimated multi-year cost for the project is about $80 million, which includes contingency funds and the cost of new meters, software, communications equipment and labor.
Costs for advanced meters are already factored into the current 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 installation fee for advanced meters. Overall project costs and savings are factored into the long-term budgeting process.
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 6-9 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.
- When will meters be installed?
Advanced meter installation is expected to begin around mid-2020 and finish in early 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 mid-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.
- What about the 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?
We are committed to high quality customer service and are developing a policy to provide you with options.
If you do not want a communicating advanced electric meter, you will have the option to receive an advanced electric meter with the radio frequency transmitter disabled. Opting out will likely require you to pay a fee for ongoing manual billing, which is an industry custom. Sign up for our email newsletter to receive updates on advanced meters and this policy.
- Will the advanced meters use the Click! Network?
We will utilize the fiber network for data transport when feasible. Wireless meter technology costs have significantly decreased in the last decade or so – which is partly why we are upgrading our meters now. Where the fiber network is in place, the collected data will be transmitted to us on that fiber network. In locations without a fiber network, the collected data will be transmitted to us over a wireless connection.