Public Utilities Make Strides toward Automatic Meters

Article excerpt

Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard

First, the milkman went away. Then the door-to-door salesman all but disappeared. Now, the days may be numbered for another visitor who has passed through the front gate for years: the meter reader.

The reason is money-saving technology - specifically, Automatic Meter Reading modules that can instantly read meters electronically and report customers' usage over a power line or via other means.

Locally, several public utilities have made the move or are about to do so. Leading the pack is Lane Electric Cooperative, which expected to install the last of about 12,500 automatic meters this week.

The Emerald People's Utility District, meanwhile, is just beginning its move to Automatic Meter Reading, or AMR for short. EPUD is installing about 200 automatic meters in the Creswell area as part of a pilot project; if all goes well, the utility will make the switch with all 18,500 of its customers next year.

On an even larger scale, the Eugene Water & Electric Board is exploring whether to move to AMR for 90,000 electric customers and another 40,000 water customers. The utility figures it could get a return on its $29 million investment within eight to 10 years. The lion's share of savings would come from eliminating most of 18 meter reader and six field service representative positions.

Not surprisingly, some meter readers are less than enthusiastic about the possible changeover.

Loretta Huston, an EWEB meter reader for four years, said she likes her job because it allows her to work outdoors and stay physically active.

"I don't necessarily agree with automation," she said this week while covering a north Eugene route. "It creates more sedentary jobs and puts more people out of work. It's great to have this position because it gives people a chance at an entry-level job and then the chance to move up."

At Lane Electric, the far-flung cooperative expects to see a return on its $3 million investment in AMR within eight years - by eliminating four contracted meter reader positions and saving lots of gas and driving time across its 2,600-square-mile service area - said spokesman Dave D'Avanzo.

Lane Electric did an initial switch at its Dexter substation in March, and has since added automatic reader equipment to all 12 of its substations, D'Avanzo said.

The cooperative serves customers in or around Blue River, Cottage Grove, Creswell, Culp Creek, Dexter, Dorena, Eugene, Fall Creek, Lorane, Oakridge, Pleasant Hill, Veneta, Vida and Westfir. …