PWC 'smart' meters closer to reality for Fayetteville homes
Sep 26, 2012 (The Fayetteville Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Fayetteville's first "smart" electric and water meters are scheduled to be rolled out in two years.
The Public Works Commission unanimously voted today to approve a plan to install the high-tech meters over four years beginning in fiscal 2014. The $54 million initiative includes making changes to the entire grid, from substations to voltage towers, to adapt to the new technology.
The city-owned utility has about 85,000 electric customers and a similar number of water customers who will get the new meters.
The meters will offer several benefits, enabling for the first time two-way communication between customer meters and the PWC, which will know instantly when a home loses power. Customers will be able to schedule which day of the month they want to pay their bills. Starting or discontinuing service will be easier.
But the biggest change will be the PWC's shift to a new structure for charging customers higher electric rates during peak hours in the afternoon and early evenings, when demand is typically higher for residences. Customers will get more detailed billing information with the differing rates.
Now, the PWC charges a flat electric rate for residential customers.
The PWC hopes the smart meters and time-of-day rates will help it better afford the cost of wholesale energy from Progress Energy Carolinas, which charges the PWC more during the summer when air conditioners drive up consumption.
The PWC has hired a Chicago-based consultant, West Monroe Partners LLC, for the transition to smart meters. The utility will be hiring contractors to install them and make other requisite infrastructure changes.
"Even though we are talking details today, we are still very high level," said Susan Fritzen, the utility's chief corporate services officer. "There are still huge amounts of details to be worked out as we go forward."
One issue is making sure the new meters are secure from cyber attacks or computer hackers, she said.
PWC board member Mike Lallier asked staff to better outline the costs versus financial benefits and to develop a conceptual plan for creating new revenue to help pay for the meters. One example was adding a 50-cent surcharge on monthly bills.
PWC General Manager Steve Blanchard said answers to both questions would be easy to provide, and the board will get that information within the next month.
The PWC will not be entering unchartered territory. According to a staff presentation, about 70 percent of electric providers in the country have begun shifting to smart grids, but not all of them have installed the advanced meters yet.
Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3565.
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