Public Utilities Reports

PUR Guide 2012 Fully Updated Version

Available NOW!
PUR Guide

This comprehensive self-study certification course is designed to teach the novice or pro everything they need to understand and succeed in every phase of the public utilities business.

Order Now

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

no longer retrofits. The demand AMRs are bought from Elster. "There really only are two vendors that had it-Elster and SchlumbergerSema, and Elster was the only system that tied to the Itron system that we use for meter reading," Converse says. NSTAR uses the Itron Premierplus4 meter reading system.

NSTAR owns and operates all its metering and meter reading technology. Converse says that because of the difficulties involved in reading indoor meters, Boston Edison used to bill bimonthly. AMR has allowed it to move to monthly meter reads and billing.

"On the large commercial side we are going to time-of-use metering that is going to be read remotely and daily," Converse says. "So we expect to be able to offer some new service in the future, but we are waiting until we get a sizeable population installed until we push it." Future services include e-mail on outage notification, power quality enhancements, and daily reporting of exact numbers, instead of estimates, to the New England ISO.

"We continue to install AMR and target it via cost-per-read analysis on residential meters," Converse says. "Our composition of 1.3 million customers is about 5,000 time-of-use and 60,000 commercial demand, and the rest are residential." But some areas will not get AMR. For example, NSTAR has service areas where meter-read percentages are very high, and the number of meters on a route is very high, so an internal rate-of-return analysis does not justify AMR.

Moreover, those utilities worried about AMR being mandated, and about the costs, might rent rather than buy. That's what PECO did.

Sandy Goodwin, energy usage manager at PECO, says AMR technology is not something PECO would take to the PUC to ask for rate relief. Instead, it is an outsourced needs-for-services contract with SchlumbergerSema and is classified as an O&M (operations and maintenance) expense. She said it was easily justified because it reduced the company's overall O&M expenses.

PECO made the decision to retrofit 50 percent of its electric meters-everything that was retrofittable. The balance was replaced with SchlumbergerSema electric meters.

"We are the eighth utility in the United States to deploy a SchlumbergerSema fixed wireless network," says. "We were the largest, but we were not the first." At the time PECO evaluated AMR, the majority of the AMR users chose mobile, drive-by technology. Goodwin says PECO evaluated all available AMR technology, including drive-by, and narrowed the options down to a half dozen. "What drove us to the SchlumbergerSema solution was two things: It met or exceeded all of our business requirements, and it also used proven technology," she explains. "Also, it offered an opportunity for the future in the way that we structured our contract to get more data from our meters if we needed it. And the price was very favorable."

Mark Strutz, manager of AMR strategies at PECO, says AMR produced opportunities where PECO may have not been capturing all the revenue, or "tariff-enabled" opportunities-charging for energy that the company may not have been charging for because of limitations with the old metering. Strutz says one example is power factor,