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Watt to expect…Electric meters being replaced in the borough
“We recently pulled a meter that was from the 1940s. That’s a 70-year-old meter. It was still reading but there was no way it was near as accurate as the day it was installed.” — Brett McClain, Ephrata Borough Electric System Manager
Papa John’s on Main Street became ground zero in Ephrata Borough’s mission to upgrade all residential and commercial electric meters.
Borough employees Monday morning popped off the old meter, which plugs in like a four-prong cord into an electric receptacle, at the Main Street pizza joint and replaced the first of 6,752 electric meters with smart meters.
The smart meters, with embedded computer sensors, required a $1.6 million expenditure by the borough funded over 10 years. The borough locked in a rate of 1.4 percent through meter manufacturer AMP Ohio’s Advance Metering Infrastructure Program, Tom Natarian, Ephrata Borough director of operations, said.
The cost of the project should have no impact on borough electric customer’s rates or monthly bills, said Chris Moore, Ephrata Borough director of finance.
“Based on our current budget we have sufficient funds to make those payments,” Moore said.
The borough had sent out letters March 25 informing residents that crews from electric system manager Brett McClain’s office would begin meter replacements this week.
McClain said his crews coordinated with Papa John’s so that there “was no interruption to their business.”
“We’ve been working closely with other businesses as well to work with their schedule as to not inconvenience them,” he said.
Residents in the borough were informed that installers coming to homes would knock on each customer’s door and display proper identification before installation for the new meter.
McClain said the interruption of electrical service “at Papa John’s today lasted 10 seconds but we say it will be less than a minute for a typical installation.”
“So for the time we pull your meter and put the new one in, we’re talking under a minute,” he said. “the total time at a home could be as little as five minutes and a lot of that is talking to the customer.”
The new meter system will eventually monitor street light use, instantly establish where power outages have occurred and automatically re-route power from one sub-station to another, monitor power usage during peak and non-peak periods of the day, which can help customers use electricity more efficiently and economically.
Letters sent to electric customers stated the investment in the new meters is “part of a long-range objective to modernize its distribution system.”
The key feature is customers can access more detailed information on their electricity use, allowing the borough’s electric customers to log into the system to monitor personal power usage remotely through personal electronic devices.
“Customers will be able to log onto their account online,” Bob Thompson, borough manager said. “They will be able to see real time usage of their electric devices where you can see the impact of adding a device. You could see the effect of running a load of laundry, having the dryer running and operating the stove going all at the same time or backing off and (doing them separately).”
This could help customers reduce electricity use. For instance a customer can set threshold levels of use that when reached would trigger an alert to the customer’s smart phone.
The system can also read road temperatures and conditions in a secure distribution network that will help Ephrata better manage its power resource, Natarian said.
“This system will offer the borough so much more,” he said. “This is its own stand-alone network infrastructure with so much built in functionality.”
Natarian said that with the borough’s membership in AMP-Ohio, it is the first municipality among its 1,134 customers to use the smart system.
The smart meters are also intended to minimize the time and labor required to disconnect and reconnect rental properties and utility transfers on real estate sales by allowing borough employees to remotely shut off or restart electric service.
The borough regularly does 15 to 16 electrical shutoffs per day, said Tracy Rossberry Ephrata Borough business officer manager
Two public works employees who do monthly physical meter readings will continue on staff and continue to read water meters and other tasks, she said.
About 300 residents received a letter explaining their electric setup is out of code and must to be repaired before the new smart meters could be attached.
Those residents would require a $128 permit issued by the borough — for the impending inspection fee — prior to the installation of the new meter when the home is compliant.
“The customer is not paying the inspector out of pocket, the borough is paying the inspector,” said McClain, whose team will replace the meters going house-to-house and business to business installing new equipment for the next eight to 12 weeks.
“The electrical application fee (permit) really covers a minimal amount of administrative costs but mainly it goes to reimburse the inspector to make sure we protect the homeowner and the borough before we plug in a new meter,” McClain said.
Natarian stressed that anyone who received a letter stating their system is non-compliant should realize it has nothing to do with the meter itself.
“The issue is the electrical installation at the house and whether it is compliant with national electrical code and are not safety hazards, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent” Natarian said.
McClain said the two main safety issues flagged by the borough are problems with service entrance cables and meter base problems (some date back 35-plus years) which the meter attaches.
“There have been other issues that customers have been notified for,” McClain said, “such as obstructions where someone may have built a fence and you can’t open a meter base. Those are more of a fire safety issue because one of the first things we do in case of a (house) fire is pull the meter so firemen can safely go in and put out an electric fire.”
The new meters are expected to have a shelf life of 20-plus years.
Thompson said this is the first time in a long period where there’s been “a wholesale meter exchange“ which will ensure an accuracy that wasn’t necessarily present with the older mechanical meters.
“We recently pulled a meter that was from the 1940s,” McClain said. “That’s a 70-year-old meter. It was still reading but there was no way it was near as accurate as the day it was installed.”
Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at email@example.com or at 721-4455.
Photos by Missi Mortimer
Charles Adkins, of NexGen Utility Solutions, removes an older electric meter from a home in Ephrata Borough Tuesday.
Adkins, installs the new four-prong electric meter equipped with computer sensors that allow each unit to be monitored remotely.