Pacific Power announced recently its plans to install 590,000 digital “smart meters” outside homes and businesses in Oregon in 2018 and 2019.

The new meters would replace the familiar spinning disks with digital readouts and also do away with about 100 jobs for meter readers, said Tom Gauntt, Pacific Power spokesman.

“It’s a big investment for the whole company,” he said Monday, “but it creates enough efficiencies that it pays for itself over the years.”

The cost to Pacific Power will be more than $100 million, Gauntt said. Oregon will be the first of six states in the Pacific Power coverage area to install the improved technology. He said the company expects to recoup its costs through long-term savings and the long life­span of the smart meter.

Smart meters allow consumers with online Pacific Power accounts to check their power usage directly in almost real time, which can help them save energy and money, Gauntt said. Smart meters read power use on an hourly basis and communicate that information directly to the power utility. For example, turning off a major appliance or alternating consumption of hot water should show the amount of power consumed by each, Gauntt said.

“It’s giving you that level of information,” he said. “People really could become much more aware of their usage.”

A smart meter requires no meter reader to visit and record power usage at the customer’s home or business. About 100 meter readers would be displaced, although some may be retrained for other jobs, Gauntt said. Some meter readers will be retained to maintain the meters, he said.

Marcy Grail, assistant business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 125, said Tuesday the union and Pacific Power collaborated to establish apprenticeships for meter readers who may be displaced. The union, she said, understands smart meters save consumers money, help the utility keep down rates and are more reliable than current technology.

“We’re working together to see what we can do for these employees,” Grail said. “That doesn’t mean that everyone who is a meter reader will get an apprenticeship, but they will get the opportunity” to apply.

Pacific Power has not yet selected a smart-meter vendor, Gauntt said. The utility may have an installation plan later this year, he said.

Smart meters have been around since 2009, according to whatissmartgrid.org. The meters transmit information on power usage to the utility by radio. The low-frequency radio transmissions require less energy than cell phones or microwave ovens and present no health hazard, according to the consumer-oriented website.

Account information in the company computer system is encrypted, Gauntt said. Customers would need an online account to view their power usage tracked by a smart meter. About one-third of Pacific Power’s 1.8 million customers use an online account to pay their utility bill, he said. Smart meters do not pose a threat to privacy, he said.

“We can’t look inside your house and see what’s going on,” he said. “It can’t do that.”

In addition, smart meters allow faster connection and disconnection at the service address. Smart meter technology already exists in 64 million homes and businesses across the country, Gauntt said; “apparently there are more homes with smart meters than there are households with dogs.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815, jditzler@bendbulletin.com

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