MILL CREEK — At a Mill Creek home predating the Cuban Missile Crisis, a Snohomish County Public Utility District employee changed its electric meter.
It was replaced with a 21st century version Thursday morning — one of the first of 380,000 new meters being installed over the next three years.
PUD staff emphasized customers’ personal privacy is imperative.
“All this data and the network we’re sending it over, the information, it’s encrypted, it’s our network,” spokesperson Aaron Swaney said. “We’re building this out and we’re also not connecting any of this data to their customer profile, their name or any (personal identification information). It’s disconnected from all of that.”
The new meters won’t need a PUD employee or contractor to physically show up and read the kilowatts. Now data will be sent directly to the utility, allowing the agency to more easily find power outages. It will allow the PUD to respond quickly and have a better idea of how many customers are without power.
The new meters also allow the utility to forecast daily and yearly power needs for specific areas.
PUD customers with the new meters will no longer receive the “estimated” energy bills they’d get if workers can’t get out there in poor weather. Energy consumers will now get more detailed reports of their energy usage.
In addition, the PUD expects quicker connect and disconnect times for tenants moving in or out.
PUD customers are allowed to opt out of the new meters. This option is not available for customers in apartments with more than four addresses, businesses, PUD water customers, those who live on Hat Island and those with temporary services.
It will cost $25 for customers to opt out and get PUD to read their meters manually or $5 per month if they self-report their meter reading.
The PUD has budgeted $93.2 million for the project and was, as of Thursday, $2 million under that figure, Swaney said.
PUD staff demonstrated changing a meter Thursday morning. Homeowner Scott Harder looked on as meter journeyman Evan Aratani switched the devices in just a few minutes.
Harder said he was “absolutely” excited about getting a new meter, and that he wasn’t concerned about data collection.
The unit Aratani pulled out was from December 1961. The Kennedy years.
“Some of these meter bases and meters, we haven’t been to in a long time,” Swaney said.
Hat Island has about 60 full-time residents. The PUD once had to send out meter readers to the island to collect data. The utility has the ability to read those meters remotely, but not communicate to them. Hat Island is slated for PUD upgrades for that reason.
The ConnectUp system will also replace 23,000 water meters. The program has resulted in over 30 new jobs for the utility, Swaney said. A new department oversees the program and it technology.
With the upgrades, the PUD will join Seattle City Light, Puget Sound Energy, Tacoma Power and Avista in having high-tech meters.
About 90 days prior to meter installation, customers will receive a letter in the mail about the exchange. Two weeks prior, PUD will send a reminder postcard. A few days before the exchange, customers will get an email. Importantly, PUD has to kill power for 5 to 10 minutes to make the change.
The hope, PUD staff said, is for each technician to perform 40 to 50 meter changes per day.
If the customer is not home, a door handle hanger will be left explaining what was done. Customers can’t schedule a time.
“These communications are a little more general,” Swaney said. “But they’re at least giving (the customer) a heads up.”