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 May 26, 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 power 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 fulfills requests we have received from you and your neighbors for additional features including monthly billing and access to usage data.
- What are advanced meters and how do they work?
Advanced meters are two-way communication devices that measure and transmit 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 more quickly and reduce the length of outages and system emergencies.
Advanced meters measure usage information at homes and businesses. The usage information is sent between the meter and the utility over a wireless network. This means that:
- Advanced meters collect the same water and energy usage data your existing meter provides, just more often that possible via the current bi-monthly manual reads.
- Residential usage information is typically sent to us about 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 will offer many customer benefits. Some of the benefits available from this technology include monthly billing, selectable bill due date, faster outage and leak detection, prepayment options for power, remote turn-on and turn-off of electricity for easier move in, move out, and reconnection, and detailed, near real-time usage information through a customer web portal. Click here to view and download a comprehensive summary of Advanced Meter customer benefits and capabilities.
- Have other utilities installed advanced meters?
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than 75 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 residential water or commercial accounts.
To request a paper opt-out application, please email TPUCSBillingOfficeTeam@cityoftacoma.org or call 253-502-8509.
- How are advanced meters related to other utility technology projects?
Advanced meters are a foundational modernization project and deliver key benefits right away. Modernization projects typically build on one another over time. Some customer benefits or data are enabled by advanced meters and delivered through related utility modernization projects, such as TPU’s Customer Engagement Portal.
- Does COVID-19 change the importance of Advanced Metering?
You are our priority – especially with the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Advanced Metering will provide you with the benefits you’ve asked for – more options to control costs, monthly billing, and additional flexible payment options – each beneficial during uncertain economic times. Faster outage and leak detection capabilities also allow us to locate and restore services sooner. We know there is a lot of interest within our communities for new programs enabled by Advanced Metering and we are dedicated to realizing these benefits. Advanced Metering is an essential building block of TPU’s infrastructure, has been a strategic focus for the past five years, and will modernize TPU services now and in the future.
- When will meters be installed?
Advanced meter installation began late 2020 and are expected to last 18 to 24 months, although the timeline could shift as the project progresses. 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?
Mass meter deployment planning is currently underway and will be finalized soon, including where we will begin. 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?
We installed a small number of advanced meters in late 2020. The installation for all residential and small commercial customers will begin soon. You will receive notifications prior to your upgrade. Some large commercial meters are bring upgraded now.
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 1-888-225-5773.
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?
While our Meter Technicians work to improve our infrastructure and enhance your service, the health and safety of our customers and staff during the pandemic is top priority. 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 your 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 the upgrade?
Residential and small business customers will receive three notifications by mail starting 45 to 60 days before the upgrade is schedule, with additional reminders at 30 and 14 days. You will also receive two autodial messages from the meter installation vendor seven and two days before your meter upgrade.
Large commercial and industrial customers will receive one notification 60 days before the scheduled upgrade, followed by a phone call from the meter shop to schedule the upgrade if an interruption of service is required.
- 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 large commercial and industrial 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 and small business customers will experience a brief interruption of power service during the upgrade and you may need to reset your clocks and turn certain equipment such as computers back on after the installation is completed. During your water meter upgrade, you won’t have water service available. If your home has an accessible exterior spigot, the installer will run the 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 large commercial and industrial upgrades will require an interruption of service. If exchanging the meters does require a service interruption, 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 if your meter is 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 and small business electric meters are typically located on the side or back of your house.
Large 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 and small business water meters are typically located in front of the house, near the sidewalk or street.
Most large commercial and industrial 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 meter 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, view the Water Service Line Grant and Loan Program 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 of your meter 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 unplanned 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 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 electric meters we are installing 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. The 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 typically transmit data via radio frequency about 24 times per day. The advanced meters emit radio frequency only when they transmit data, which, in total, 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 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 is the incremental cost to TPU for the project and includes new meters, software, communications equipment, and labor.
Costs for advanced meters are already factored into current customer rates. Beginning in 2019, the additional cost increase each year for the next ten years is about:
- 8 cents per month for the average residential power customer ($0.96 per year),
- 11 cents per month for the average residential water customer in the City of Tacoma ($1.32 per year), and
- 13 cents per month for the average residential water customer outside the City of Tacoma ($1.56 per year).
As an example, for the average residential power customer, the additional cost is projected to be about $0.96 per year in year one, increasing $0.96 each year to about $9.60 per year in year ten.
- Are advanced meters financially beneficial?
Yes, by the end of the 20-year lifecycle for the new metering system, we expect this project to result in a positive financial benefit to the utility, which ultimately benefits customers.
We developed an extensive business case assessing the financial benefits, costs, and non-financial (soft) benefits over the next 20 years. This analysis was completed in 2016, 2019, and updated in 2020. The 2020 updated analysis shows a positive financial net present value of approximately $8 million.
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.
- How is the advanced meter project funded?
The advanced meter project is funded from existing utility funds and revenue generated from power and water rates.
- What projects can utility revenue and funds be used for?
State law and the Tacoma City Charter provide that the use of utility revenue (and existing utility funds) is limited to utility purposes or projects. Examples of related uses include costs to provide safe, reliable services, maintain utility infrastructure, protect natural resources near our facilities, conservation projects, and invest in system improvements, such as upgrading meters.
- 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 also plan to offer a prepayment option for electric service and a select your own bill due date option. We look forward to offering these conveniences.
Advanced Meters will also allow TPU to explore new future rate options, including structures such as time of use (TOU) rates. Any future rate options will have extensive public comment opportunities, and require review and approval by the Public Utility Board and City Council.
- 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 utility budgeting process.