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TID to 'get smart' with meter reading
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While no one ever called the existing Turlock Irrigation District meters stupid, the Board of Directors recently decided that it's time to get smart. The TID will invest $12.6 million to install smart meters throughout their service area, which will allow for detailed remote meter reading, eliminating the need for visits by meter technicians.

"With the old meter they could say, 'I didn't use that much power,'" said TID Director Rob Santos. "Now if they think something's off, we can show them every 15 minutes how much power they are using."

In addition to the detailed breakdown of power usage, the new meters will allow for off site activations and deactivations, making life easier for TID employees and customers alike. The new meters tie into phone lines or cell phone networks to contact the TID system remotely.

The decision to install smart meters throughout the TID area follows a successful five-month pilot program launched in August of last year. Almost 1,200 standard meters were replaced with smart meters by TID meter technicians in a mix of residential, commercial, and industrial areas.

The pilot program found that, not only can the cutting edge smart meters save consumers time, but they can also save money.

"Because the District is getting information every 15 minutes, we can better plan on when we need to buy power," Santos said. "There are people that chart how much power we need to use each day and what time of day we need it."

Through superior planning capabilities, the district will be able to better pre-purchase power and handle increased demand. Additionally, the TID plans to save money through operational efficiencies based on employment reductions.

"We're not hiring any more meter readers," Santos said. "As some retire, we're not going to fill those positions. We're still going to have to be a core of three or four people in the department to manage the meters. We don't plan on laying anybody off."

The new smart meters will be installed in a phased approach over four years, starting in the Fall of this year. The phased approach is expected to better allow the District to deal with any problems that may arise in a controlled rollout.

On average, a meter can be replaced in just 15 minutes. Once installed, the new minute-by-minute usage information will immediately be available to TID.

The new systems are expected to be more reliable and secure than existing meters, while also offering customers new ways to address their power usage. In the future, customers could be able to prepay for their electricity or see different time-of-use rates.

In order to help customers make the best use of the new information, it is expected that the district will develop a Web site to allow customers to view their detailed energy usage statistics. The new data should help consumers make informed decisions about their energy usage.

"This can also evolve into something where the customer can view how much electricity they've spent for the day," Santos said. "They can go online and check what their electric bill is going to be, and maybe cut back usage that way too."