Oregon utility moves to $117 million smart meter system


US utility giant Pacific Power is rolling out 24 000 smart meters in Clatsop County, as part of a $117 million investment in an overall rollout of 590 00 smart meters across Oregon.

Installations are expected to be completed by early May, 2019.

The smart meters communicate power usage data using a wireless mesh network to the utility’s servers. Within six weeks of installation, consumers will be able to track and monitor their energy usage via a secure portal.

“From other customers with smart meters, they have better insight into their energy use,” said Alisa Dunlap, a regional business manager with Pacific Power in northwest Oregon. “They can take a look when things are spiking, which internal issue might be occurring.
“Right now, customers have to call us when the power is out,” she said. “These meters will automatically notify us, so outages should be shorter.”

Cory Estlund, Pacific Power’s manager of field support, reported a total of approximately 70 million smart meters across the U.S. More than two-thirds of Oregon homes and businesses have upgraded to smart metering, following the utility’s decision to wait for more refined technologies, and more competitive pricing before investing.

“The difference is they have a communication module that lets us handle data,” Estlund said. “Now we can do things remotely without having to roll out a truck and look at a meter.”

Although the change to online meter-reading will result in 100 positions being made redundant from Pacific Power’s statewide workforce of 5,500, the utility has taken an active role in helping affected workers find new roles internally or other employment as part of a two year-long transformation process, according to Dunlap.

The utility has engaged in customer communication programmes regarding the rollout. Workers for meter manufacturer Aclara will visit customers with badges identifying them as installers. Installation will be free of charge.

Customers have the option to opt out of having the smart meters installed, but will have to pay a $36 monthly fee for meter reads.

The utility’s interest in the state includes piloting EV services after gaining approval from the Oregon Public Utility Commission early in 2018.