Burien to get part of $94 million City Light program for new electronic meters


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By Jack Mayne

The Burien City Council on Monday was given a preview of Seattle City Light’s $94 million system-wide advanced metering system replacing 420,000 old meters at homes and businesses.

The new system – meant “to enable the utility to operate far more efficiently, cost effectively … to create better and enhanced services” – will be installed in Burien during the coming summer, and the utility will soon be sending individual households notice of the changes, said Scott Thomsen, City Light Communications Senior Strategic Advisor.

The system wide change is beginning north of the ship canal in Seattle and will progress southward. The time it will make it to Burien is unknown, but expected to be later this year.

No more meter readers
Many of the individual meters were installed in the 1950s with a system that was building during the first part of the 20th century, the Council was told.

The new system will no longer use people going to each household and checking a meter, it will be done electronically directly to City Light, Thomsen said, making the readings more reliable and reducing emissions from all of the cars. The change will also save the 200,000 miles that meter readers and repair crews now travel.

Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz, unusual in her physical attendance at the Council meeting, asked what would happen to the employees replaced by the electronic meters.

Thomsen said there are 51 meter readers now, and they expect to have about six after the new installations and “we have been working with this group for more than a year on coaching and support … to help them find other jobs either within City Light or elsewhere.”

The system also will provide new opportunities for customers, such as the meter having the ability to inform City Light of outages directly and when they happen, instead of a person having to call the utility, “speeding our response get you reconnected and get the lights back on.”

The system sends a digitally encrypted transmission of the power usage directly from the home or business to City Light headquarters over existing cellular networks every few hours of each day, Thomsen said.

“All of this information is going to be used by the utility to be more efficient and cost effective,” he said, adding analysis can be accomplished on peak demand of equipment so neighborhood usage can be analyzed more or different equipment can be made available to avoid an outage.

It will also allow analyses of incoming power from resident-owned solar panels, increasingly used by City Light customers.

“We’ve grown from just a few hundred to more than 2,000 customers with solar panels in just the last four years,” he said.

Thomsen said the questions that usually come up include whether the system is save, is data secure, will they make people sick or “Is ‘big brother’ watching me?”

The utility will repair or replace damaged bases they find while installing the new system but it will not replace defective wiring on the customer side, and customers with meters in the wrong location or inaccessible will have to “make corrections to continue the service.”

There also will be three notices given to customers when the change is being made and the actual shutdown of power for the change is only one to two minutes.

Individual customers can opt out of the new electronic meters, and will get a new non-communicating meter for a fee and a monthly service charge. Opt out applications are on the City Light website, by mail or by phone, he said.

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Comments

5 Responses to “Burien to get part of $94 million City Light program for new electronic meters”
  1. Meter reader department says:

    I wanted to comment on a couple issues that are not correct, there isn’t 51 meter readers and we have never had that amount and currently we have 28 meter readers left, we had some retire, left for a more secure job, loaned to other departments, temps not being extended and some health reasons.

    The job coaching was stopped awhile ago due to budget and the 6 left over positions has never been offered to us and we would have to apply just like for any position where every department would have the same chance. Every article we read seems to lay the blame at the meter reading department and that’s really demoralizing to us because we are doing our best with the amount of staff we are given.

    The calls directly to our office is at an all time high and then getting to the calls that were made first to the call center can be overwhelming handling all those issues.The billing department has some of the same challenges so both departments are doing the best they can working as a team to help our customers.

  2. Rod Guevara says:

    I have been a Seattle City Light meter reader from 1979-2000 & 2011-present. Scott Thomsen has two factually incorrect statements in this article:

    (1–There are NOT 51 SCL meter readers; currently we have 32, which includes 9 Temporary meter readers. For your information, since about June of 2012 (when we had 44 readers), we have not been able to cover the daily/weeky assignments (customer accounts), even though we have some readers who have worked up to 58 hours a week SINCE that time; therefore we have estimated some TENS OF THOUSANDS of customer accounts since then, and continue to do so NOW.

    (2–the SCL Management and Transition (to Automated Meter Reading) team has curtailed any “job search” assistance to the present 23 permanent meter readers (and the half dozen or so who are working out-of-class (other jobs in the utility). since December of 2016 no one from HR or elsewhere has been assigned to work with our unit on transition to other jobs, with Seattle City Light/City of Seattle, or outside.

    For your information, Scott Thomsen also lied to the Seattle City Council Utilities Commission about the number of, and reasons for, estimated customer accounts:

    (1–He (and SCL’s Kelly Enright) claimed the number of estimated accounts is 2% of the SCL total. This hasn’t been the case from at least the above-referenced 2012, and most likely before that time. This is due to obvious understaffing (denied by even SCL Meter Reading Managers), and a lack of commitment to resolving the thousands of access issues, which still exist at the present time. I could provide examples of this, but do not need to provide details in this forum.
    (2–Both SCL representatives, listed above, also claim the 11% CURRENT total of estimated (unread) accounts is due to the “snow days” and the snow which remained in “low-lying areas, which prevented meter readers from getting to meters. Given the two or three actual instances of snow during the past winter, this is a total falsehood; this was news to all of us in the SCL Meter Reading office, blaming us for an increase which would be numerically improbable in the time span given by the above SCL representatives.

    My conclusion and suggestion for Seattle City Light customers is to take everything SCL representative state about this project with a “grain of salt.”

  3. leery says:

    Since most meters are of the 1950’s vintage I’ll just assume most of us will be getting a big fat bill for the upgrade. 🙁

    • MichaelJ says:

      Nope. But I noticed on my current SCL bill a separate line item surcharge for the undergrounding along 1st Ave. South, which surprised me. Especially since I live only a half block from Ambaum.
      I understand Burien has an ordinance on undergrounding new or relocating existing aerial installations. However the costs should be bourne by those businesses that are getting those improvements as the ordinance states. It also allows for a LID to be created, and wonder if the whole city of Burien was turned into a LID for this purpose, and how that came to be.
      See the BMC under Chapter 12.40, UTILITY UNDERGROUNDING POLICY

  4. Jim T. says:

    The meters are already installing here. Got mine installed last week.

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