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The Politics of AMR

The industry continues to debate the costs and technology of automated meter reading, even as some regulators insist on immediate implementation.
Fortnightly Magazine - September 1 2003

has jurisdiction for end-to-end quality control of the wholesale and retail metering data.

Some help may come from a mandated, statewide residential pilot program. The California PUC initiated a rulemaking to set AMR standards for smaller customers of the state's three largest investor-owned utilities, including Southern California Edison (SoCalEd). 2

David Berndt, manager of meter strategy integration at SoCalEd, explains that the PUC wants to evaluate AMR for customers below 200 kW demand, for example, setting rules on how to move forward and what kind of participation to expect, which might help the business case for advanced metering. SoCalEd has installed approximately 1,000 meters in its service territory, and Berndt is hopeful customers will see the value of price signals and respond accordingly by adjusting their energy usage. "That would affect our procurement costs, hopefully lowering them, which could contribute to the financial business case which would help justify AMR," he says. "That is not based on charging customers for more services. It is clearly based on reduced procurement costs in peak periods."

For customers 200 kW and above, the California Energy Commission (CEC) sponsors a pilot program for installation of AMR, which entails communication of 15-minute demand information for all those larger commercial and industrial customers. The CEC provides $35 million worth of meters for the large customer AMR trial as required by Assembly Bill 29X, signed into law on April 11, 2001. Both AMR pilots for large and small customers are in the trial stages.

Wireless, Mobile, or Outsourced

Utilities continue to disagree on which technology best fits their service territory.

National Grid, for its New England-based companies, decided on a technology using a van-based, drive-by system, which entails driving around the service territory to pick up a signal from an ERT (encoder, receiver, and transmitter) in the meter. Such technology makes it possible to read about 10,000 meters a day.

The company decided to try installation of AMR in a small segment of its service territory, retrofitting about 300,000 of the 400,000 electric meters in Rhode Island. (National Grid's New England subsidiaries are Massachusetts Electric, Narragansett Electric, Granite State Electric, and Nantucket Electric).

Although Barbara Hassan, senior vice-president of customer service for National Grid's New England Distribution Cos., says it was "really hard to do the cost-benefit analysis and make it work," the company knew AMR was "the right thing" before half the installations had been completed. That led to the decision to retrofit all the other residential accounts that were in Rhode Island.

According to Tom Converse, director of meter operations at NSTAR, about half the company's 1.3 million customers are equipped with AMR. He explains that prior to the merger in 1999 of Boston Edison and Commonwealth Energy to create NSTAR, the companies had two different goals regarding metering.

The original, pre-merger AMR deployments in Boston Edison and Commonwealth Energy both were retrofits of the traditional, electromechanical meters. Some new meters were purchased, along with the retrofits, depending on the vintage and life expectancy of the meters.

Now NSTAR has standardized, buying all solid-state meters, and it