Pre-Meeting Q & A from the Board - February 6, 2018

The following questions have been posed by Commissioners prior to the scheduled Board Meeting on February 6, 2018.  Staff responses are included below, and are sorted by Agenda topic.  

Advanced Metering Benefits and Implementation Options

One concern about Smart Meters is their accuracy, how reliable are our Smart Meters? How has the technology changed to address the "spinning" concern?  What safeguards are in place to prevent overcharging?  If the meter is overcharging, how would we even know?   Electro-Mechanical meters have inaccuracies, including those related to electric fields and/or gears ("spinning").  EWEB's advanced meters meet the ANSI C12.20 standard, and are accurate to within +/- 0.2%.    All EWEB meters are tested at the factory, and we additionally audit approximately 10% of the meters prior to installation and commissioning.  So far, we have not heard any reports of billing problems.  We will work with any customers that report a change in their metered consumption, and we have no plans to try to recover the cost of previously artificially low bills due to faulty EWEB metering equipment.   EWEB has a number of safeguards in place to detect potential billing problems, primarily in our Billing Control department. They receive automated reports of bills that appear to be too high or too low based on previous consumption history, along with a number of other possible errors. Adding the advanced metering system adds a second layer of checks; the meter data management system performs a number of validation checks on meter data before the readings are sent to the Customer Information System. We expect the advanced metering system to increase bill accuracy.   With the growth of advanced metering installations, some have claimed that they are inaccurate.  Here's some perspective on a couple of well-known cases.  (Source:  https://www.thebalance.com/smart-electric-meters-problems-1182585 )

Key Cases on Smart Meter Accuracy

The two highest-profile cases involving customer complaints of inaccurate meters were in California and Texas. When customers complained of higher bills after smart meters were installed in parts of those states, authorities ordered independent audits of the meters. The complaints coincided with a hot summer in California and a cold winter in Texas, conditions which may have contributed to the perception of inaccuracies.

Hot Under the Collar in California

San Francisco-based PG&E began installing smart meters in its service area in 2006. In 2009, the utility company began receiving a flood of complaints about unusually high electricity bills, with customers blaming the increase on faulty meters.   In October 2009, the company informed customers that the higher bills were not the fault of the meters, but due to the increased amount of electricity needed to run air conditioners during the unusually hot summer. Two rate increases also increased consumer electricity bills that year. Nevertheless, in May 2010, PG&E apologized to customers, primarily for poor customer service. By the time PG&E issued the apology, it had installed 5.5 million smart meters in its service area. The investor-owned utility company said at the time that less than 1 percent (50,000) meters had malfunctioned.   Results from an independent audit of smart meter devices ordered by the California Public Utilities Commission were released in September 2010. The audit ultimately showed that the 750 smart meters tested were accurate and that customer billing matched expected results.

Winter of Discontent in Texas

In 2010, Texas utility company Oncor received a flood of complaints about the accuracy of its smart meters, prompting the state's utility commission to hire independent analysts to confirm their accuracy.   At the time, Oncor said the increase in complaints was not only from smart meter customers, which numbered about 760,000. Most of the billing complaints came from customers with electromechanical meters. The company said the increases were likely due to the unusually cold winter.     Nevertheless, the Texas Public Utility Commission responded to requests from legislators and consumers for independent verification of smart meter accuracy. In July 2010, Oncor reported that only 25 of the 1.1 million smart meters it had installed were inaccurate.