Coast Electric to move to automatic meters

Published 1:38 am Sunday, January 9, 2011

Customers of Coast Electric might notice a change at their electric meter in the next two years: Digital meters that report usage through the power lines.

Workers are already out putting in the new meters, but delays in acquiring the necessary components to build the meters will put the completion date for the project out two years, said Ron Barnes, vice president of Marketing and Public Relations for Coast Electric.

Barnes said the shortfall in the new meters is due to the large number of other electric companies making upgrades at the same time. Even so, installation of the new meters is underway in Pearl River, Hancock and Harrison counties, with installations in Pearl River County starting in the more rural areas such as the Cross Roads area.

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The new meters are expected to save money for Coast Electric, about $800,000 per year, Barnes said that cost savings should offset the expected future increase in the cost per kilowatt. To pay for the $8 million project the company applied for and received a Smart Grid grant worth about $4 million, leaving the company to pay the other $4 million to install the meters.

Even though power lines will be used to transmit readings, there will not be a need to upgrade the lines. Instead Barnes said there will be installation of special equipment at the 35 substations in the three counties that will gather usage and transmit it back over phone lines to the home office.

Not only will the new meters eliminate human error, but will alleviate concerns of customers and meter readers alike, such as dealing with dogs and other hazards associated with meter reading, Barnes said.

“We’re all human and as good as meter readers are, we all make mistakes,” Barnes said.

The change will mean Coast Electric will cancel the current contract they have with a third party company that reads their meters, but the three Coast Electric staff meter readers will stay on to help maintain and trouble shoot the new meters, Barnes said.

Installation of the new meters at each house should take about only five minutes, so customers will not be without power for extended periods, Barnes said. Once the installation is complete, the worker will leave a door hanger at the home to alert the customer the upgrade has been completed.

Coast Electric customer Broder William said he does not see a problem with the upgrades. When he lived in Mandeville, La., he had an automatic gas meter at his home, which was problem free, he said. He said automatic meters alleviate concerns of people walking through his  yard and dealing with his dogs.

However Coast Electric customer Debbie Tynes said she is concerned the new meters will not function correctly, giving false readings, or that the new meters will mean increased electric usage rates.

“I guess I’m just set in my ways, but my son would love it,” Tynes said.

Tynes said she has never had an automatic meter at her home.

Completion of the upgrades is expected in May of 2012 for all three counties, but Barnes said that date may change due to several factors, especially the shortage of the new meters.

Mississippi Power Corporate Spokesperson Verdell Hawkins said in an e-mail response to whether that company will make a similar upgrade that, “We have filed a request with the Mississippi Public Service Commission to address automated metering services throughout our service territory. We are presently awaiting the opportunity to discuss and present the proposal to the Commission at the appropriate time.”