Smart meter technology implemented across state

After a law was imposed 10 years ago, homeowners across the state are starting to see the benefits with energy reducing technological updates rolling into most households over the course of the past year.

In 2008, Act 129, which requires the seven biggest electric distribution companies in Pennsylvania to improve their efficiency and energy conservation, was passed. One way companies are tackling improvements is through the deployment of smart meters. According to a fact sheet from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, these devices are “an advanced meter that measures electric usage more often than conventional meters and sends that information more quickly to the customer.”

Dave Hixson, deputy press secretary for the state Public Utility Commission, said the adaption of smart meters was due to the passing of Act 129.

“[Act 129] was not strictly about smart meters,” said Hixson, “it was actually about the energy efficiency and conservation of overall energy usage…that opened the door for smart meter technology.”

There are multiple ways smart meters can benefit the consumer and the suppler, Hixson said. With smart meters, Hixson said power outages can be identified and corrected much quicker than with analog meters.

“[Smart meters] help utilities restore service faster during power outages,” Hixson said. “They can identify exactly where the outage is on the grid and can go and address it more quickly and efficiently.”

Consumers who use time-of-use rate plans through their power supplier can also save money, Hixson said, due to reliable energy usage identification.

“The advanced technology [identifies] where their energy usage is and where [there are areas] they may be able to curtail usage and be more efficient within their household,” Hixson said. “Ultimately, that helps them be able to reduce their electric bills and it reduces demand on the grid – especially during peak periods.”

The fact sheet about smart meters stated that the seven companies subject to smart meter conversion – like Duquesne Light, Met-Ed and others – must replace analog meters by 2023 for full compliance.

The replacement process, Hixson said, is straightforward and not invasive upon the customer. Though it varies on a case-by-case basis, Hixson said, most replacements are exterior installations with adequate customer notification.

“The utility [will] notify [the customer] through billing, through letters, [or] separate correspondence through the mail,” Hixson said. “They will notify [the customer] in advance that someone will be in their area and they also will let them know who will be doing the work.”

Despite a state-wide initiative to replace smart meters, customers will not notice an increase in fees. Hixson said the required costs for the conversion have been covered by Act 129 or worked into the pre-established billing agreement between the consumer and the supplier.

“There is no cost to go from the old analog meter to the smart meter,” Hixson said. “There were smart meter surcharges that the law, Act 129, provided for and there was a surcharge that went right on the electric bill and those covered any costs the company needed for the development or deployment of the smart meter systems.”

Since Act 129 does not require full compliance until 2023, Hixson said not all households across the state will be serviced this year. If an individual wants to inquire about converting early, or learn more about the benefits of smart meters, they can contact their electrical distribution company for more information.