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Electric Meter Replacement - Frequently Asked Questions

The City of Lethbridge Electric Department is replacing electric meters throughout the city.  The new meters will meet the new Industry Canada (federal) legislation.  The project started in May 2013 and will continue until the end of 2016.

Why do the meters need to be replaced?

Industry Canada (a department of the Government of Canada) rules and regulations have made a large number of our electrical meters ready for replacement. With the maturing of new metering technology, we are taking advantage at this point in time to update our entire metering fleet to modern and efficient standards.

Elster Canada of Burlington Ontario is the metering technology supplier who the City of Lethbridge has chosen for our upgrade. Elster meters are well proven in the Canadian marketplace and environment and their products are fully Industry Canada and CSA certified and stood out in our review as having the best functionality for the investment.

What will be different about the replacement meters?

The new meters will provide the City of Lethbridge Electric Utility with the information required to produce an accurate bill – no different than in the past. What is new is the fact that the meters can be read remotely insuring that we get a read every month from your home or facility to produce your bill. No more estimated values and no more coming into your yard and disturbing you and your family. Remote reading is something that other utility suppliers have already introduced and we are now ready with our system too.

Currently the city uses outside companies to drive through city streets and sometimes walk up to homes to gather meter data. When this project is completed the city will not longer need to use these outside services since the meters will be read automatically. Another difference between the new meters are their ability to determine how much power the home used during a 15 minute period. Old meters would simply add the energy being used continually and your meter read would tell you how much power your home used since the last read. The new meters still perform that same function, but they also track how much of that power was used over time during that month.

What information is gathered by the meters?

This new meter has the ability to measure how much energy your home uses, how fast it uses it, and when it was used. It will also have the ability to determine what the voltage levels are at the meter, it can determine how much power something such as a solar panel is sending out of the house, and it can report back when the power goes out.

The city would like to clearly state that these meters do not collect any other information than stated above. Some people have speculated that these meters are used to monitor activities in the home such as what appliances are used or where people are using them. Some have gone so far as to say that the city would take that data and sell it to businesses that would be interested to get that information. The city does not have any interest or ability to know what appliances are used or in what part of the home people use them. The city only has interest to know how much power is flowing to the home in order to determine if the electrical equipment installed in the streets is able to provide power effectively, and if the energy used is billed appropriately.

Who uses the information that is gathered?

The data collected is used by energy retailers and the electrical department for billing purposes and electric system design and analysis. Your energy retailer is sent energy data once per month for billing purposes. As the owner of your electric utility, the City of Lethbridge uses the information to help determine if transformers and cables are appropriately sized for the existing loads, and to determine what areas of the city would benefit the most from capital spending. Privacy and confidentiality are held at highest priority, and under no condition does the city share or post that information without consent.

Do I have access to this information?

Currently the city does not have a mechanism in place for electrical customers to access this information. As there are many factors involved in the flow of customer information, the city must operate under the rules of the law and in accordance with legislation. In order for that to happen a secure system will need to be established that can provide customers access to this information in an effective manner without dealing directly with the city electric department.

Although a system is not in place at this time, the city is aware of the customers desire and rights to their information and is working towards a solution. As more information is available on this issue it will be provided to the public.

What can the meters do?

The meters that are being installed only have the ability to monitor and record power usage. They have the ability to report back power information when asked by the computer system, and can report back important information such as a loss of power or poor power quality when it is encountered. The electric department does not have the ability to turn off power to the homes or limit power use in any way using the radio system.

The only exceptions to this are when the electric department identifies homes that are chronically missing bill payment. In these rare situations the electric department has the option to purchase a special type of meter that must physically replace the usual meter that has the ability to turn off or limit the use of power. It should be noted that even in these situations, it is not easy for the electric department to turn off the power, and this function is only available to one person who is required to follow strict guidelines as to it use.

These situations are rare, and by far the majority of electrical meters being installed do not have the ability to turn off power.

Do these meters transmit all of the time?

No. These meters do not have the need to transmit continually, and they only transmit for short periods of time a few times a day. Typically, during normal operating conditions, the meter will transmit for 1.5 seconds every 4 hours. Using the type of communication methods employed by the meters, the time necessary for sending out radio signals is greatly reduced, and they send out very little signal as compared to other communication equipment such as cellular phones or Wi-Fi routers which radiate the majority of time during use.

What is the benefit to me?  

The benefits that residents of Lethbridge can expect from this project are a more accurate and reliable electrical system. Because of the nature of the meters, estimates on monthly billing will no longer be an issue and greater accuracy in billing will take place. Although the format of the billing process itself will remain unchanged, the quality of information provided to retailers will be increased.

As the electric department has access to a much greater quality and quantity of information relating to the flow of power throughout the city, decisions relating to maintenance spending, material specifications and expansion planning will be greatly enhanced. Outages will be reported to the electrical operations centre automatically with an instant view of the exact outage locations. With this information, outage occurrences can become less frequent and outage times will be shortened. The city expects a great return on investment for this information.

Are these meters considered smart meters?

The meters being installed in the city are not smart meters. There are many definitions to the term 'smart meter' and people use that term for different reasons. In one respect our meters could be thought of as smart because of the way they are able to communicate automatically in a reliable way, but that is not the typical reason to call a meter smart. Some meters that are produced have the ability to communicate with appliances within the home. The reason for this is that in some areas of the world power prices are set according to the time in which it is used, and costs can become significantly different to operate appliances from one hour to the next. In these locations some companies have deployed meters that have the ability to respond to higher prices or times of the day, and can actually turn off an air conditioner or turn off a hot water tank if it is too costly to operate at a certain time. These devices are often the meters referred to as smart meters since they interact with appliances in the home.

The meters being deployed by the city do not have the ability to communicate with appliances in the home, and therefore by the most common terminology are not smart meters. The city does not refer to the meters being installed as smart meters and would prefer to avoid the confusion that results in comparison to these systems.

Are the meters safe?

Yes, these meters are safe.

There are many questions that arise over the safety of electrical meters, and in some areas of the world a fear has developed and consequently has given electrical meters a bad name. The city would like to reassure the residents of Lethbridge that the electrical meters chosen to be deployed during this project are safe and do not pose any known health risks to the public. Many sources of information about the risks of electrical meters have been used to spread information, and the city has taken the time to take many of these points into consideration. During review of this information it has been determined that much of the information that portrays electrical meters in a negative light is based on false or misleading information and does not accurately reflect the intent or function of the system.

The meters communicate using frequencies in the 900 MHz ISM band, which has a similar frequency to many other products used in homes such as baby monitors, cordless phones, or wireless routers. The radios use a very low power output, with a maximum power output of 250 mW, which by comparison would be up to 1/4 or 1/8 or other electrical meters, and far less than other common communication equipment. The meters are fully certified under all FCC and Industry Canada health rules and are well within the safety limits set by Canada health laws. As part of the process in choosing a company to supply our electric meters, the city made a decision to go with a technology that uses the lowest power consumption possible.

For further information regarding power output of these meters and comparisons to other commonly used radio equipment click the link below.

I’ve read that some new meters have posed fire hazards in other communities. Do I need to be concerned about this?

No. The meters that have been the focus of media attention are made by different manufacturers, and we are confident that our meters will not pose a fire hazard. In addition, we have certified and experienced metering technicians that are performing all the meter changes. The metering technician will review your meter base to assess that it is in good condition and that there are no connection issues between the new meter and the existing base. If there are issues detected with your meter base our metering technician will arrange for repairs at your convenience. Any repair charges will be covered by the City of Lethbridge.

When will my meter be replaced?  

We have been replacing meters that had expired according to Industry Canada rules over the past two years. This has allowed us to test installation procedures and make sure we had the change out process correct, and we are now ready to proceed on a larger scale. We will be replacing meters in zones known as meter reading cycle areas. We will change approximately one meter read cycle per month over the next two years. For information on locations of these read cycles click the link below.

Electric Meter Read Cycles 

We will leave you a note in your mailbox when the last manual meter read occurs in your area telling you we will be back over the next month to change your meter. We will hang a tag on your door knob when we have completed the change out. Our meter technicians will also knock on your door before we change the meter. This will give you the opportunity to turn off electrical devices that you do not want to experience the brief interruption in power required to perform the meter change.

Meter changes are expected to be complete by the end of 2016.

How long will it take to replace my meter?  

Typically this process will take around five minutes, and electric service will be disrupted during the change out. After our metering technicians remove your existing meter they will perform a full inspection of your meter base. If there are any issues detected, our technicians will leave you a note and schedule a follow up visit to do repairs. All costs associated with repairs will be paid by the City of Lethbridge Electric Utility and scheduled directly with you.

Do I have to be home when the meter is changed?

When the time comes to replace the meter, we will knock on your door to inform you that we are ready to change your meter; however, you don’t have to be home in order for the work to be done. If there are access or repair issues that prevent our metering technicians from completing the replacement, they will make direct contact with you to arrange a future visit.

Who will be changing the meters?

All meter changes, meter base inspections, and scheduling of repairs will be carried out by fully qualified power system electricians who are employees of the City of Lethbridge Electric Utility. If follow up repairs are required they will be carried out by a qualified journeyman electrician.

Will the meter change impact my bill?

This change will not have an impact on your electric utility rate.

Does this mean that my meters not longer need to be read?

This change will allow for remote reading for electric meters. Your water and gas meter will still be read by other utilities.

Do you have further questions that were not covered by the above information?

Please contact Burns Hill at the City of Lethbridge at (403) 320-4886 or burns.hill@lethbridge.ca and he will be pleased to answer your inquiry.