City Utilities has been busy for the last few years installing new metering systems at residences and businesses in and around Springfield.
The advanced metering infrastructure allows two way communication between the utility company and the meters, "so we can get instantaneous reads," said CU's AMI project manager, Chris Hill. Because of that, he said, the need for meter readers is dwindling.
"We can see the status of (the meters), so if your electricity's out, we can see that at the meter. We can see power quality issues at the meter, high use issues, things like that. So a lot of good information is available," he said.
CU customers can go to their customer portal at cityutilities.net and look at things like their hourly usage.
Meter readers no longer needed are being offered other jobs within the company, according to Hill.
The electric and gas meters will look the same, according to CU, and the gas meter will be the same with the exception of a small gray box added just behind the meter dials.
He said the new system is being absorbed into CU’s budget and won’t cost customers anything.
"We're metered the same way for the past 50 to 75 years," Hill said, "and it's time to move on."
A few customers are opting out of the new system. According to Hill, out of approximately 53,000 customers contacted so far in the process of installing of the new so-called "smart meters," only around 150 have opted out, some because they fear possible health impacts of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Radiation (RF) emitted by the new meters.
The Weston A. Price Foundation claims on its website that exposure to electromagnetic radiation from smart meters can cause DNA damage, abnormal genetic and hormonal changes and pregnancy complications, among other things.
But Hill said the level of RF emitted by the new meters is lower than other things that are commonly found in a home, including baby monitors and cell phones.
"I read recently--actually, the FCC put this out--that one year of 15 minute-a-day calls on a cell phone is the same as 375 years of standing next to a smart meter," said Hill.
WiFi also emits more RF than smart meters, according to Hill.
So far, he said he's only encountered one person who has legitimate RF-related health issues, and they don't have a cell phone or microwave in their home either.
Some people have expressed concern that CU will be able to see what's going on in their homes. But all the utility company will be able to see, Hill said, is the data generated by the Advanced Metering Infrastructure.
Customers receive letters in advance letting them know that CU workers will be in their area. A technician knocks on residents' doors to alert them of their presence. If no one answers, the technicians proceed with the work and leave door hangers stating that they've been there.
The work requires a power outage of only about five minutes. In some cases, if a gas meter is very old, the gas might be off for about 30 minutes, according to Hill.
He said if workers run across a wiring issue during installation, CU will fix it at no cost to the home or business owner.
Eventually, customers will no longer have to call City Utilities to report a power outage. But Hill said they're asking customers to still call in outages at first. After the company tests the system to be sure communication is flowing efficiently and effectively in regards to outage notification, customers should no longer have to make a report.
He anticipates being done with electric meter installations by 2020 and with gas and water by 2022.