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Modernizing our state's energy infrastructure takes time, but Texas is making progress with a big first step – its advanced meter deployment.
The advanced meter rollout means customers now have more information than ever before at their fingertips when it comes to individual energy consumption.
TNMP knows customers will naturally have questions about what's changing, what's different and why this is important. We've compiled a comprehensive list below of our responses to some of the top questions we hear, especially in regards to the installation process, rollout timing, privacy, security, health, accuracy and technology. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-866-7456.
Q: How do I know if I am a TNMP customer?
If the electric bill from your retail electric provider does not specify the transmission and distribution utility serving your home or business, you can call the retail electric provider to find out. You also can check your electric meter, whether it's an advanced meter or an old analog meter, to see if the front label reads "TNMP." A map of TNMP's service territory is located on www.TNMP.com.
Q: Do I have a choice in selecting my transmission/distribution utility (TDU) company?
No. In Texas, transmission and distribution services remain regulated to ensure reliability.
However, customers have a choice for their retail electric provider – the company that buys electricity on your behalf and bills you for energy services.
Q: Why is TNMP launching advanced meters?
Just as America made the switch from analog television to digital format in 2009, much of America is now making the switch from analog electricity meters to digital meters to lay the groundwork for a more efficient power system in each state. This rollout is part of a long-term statewide initiative, led by the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
TNMP began its advanced meter deployment in 2011 and will continue installing advanced meters through 2016 throughout its service area. The deployment provides customers with more control over their energy usage and energy budget and will enable TNMP to respond to power outages more quickly starting in the near-future. The upgrade from analog to digital technology also will provide:
- A wealth of data on customers on their energy usage through the state web portal, www.SmartMeterTexas.com.
- Faster meter reading and service connections and disconnections
- The ability to read meters remotely so customers no longer have to provide access for regular readings
- Retail electric providers in the state will have the opportunity to offer new programs and services
Q: What is an advanced meter?
An advanced meter is a device attached to a home or building that digitally captures data on power usage every 15 minutes. The device uses two-way technology to communicate through the existing cellular network infrastructure and sends accurate real-time meter data to grid operators and utility companies (which also is available to customers through smartmetertexas.com). This communication of data from each individual home directly to the utility takes about one minute and occurs once a day.
An advanced meter is the most visible component of Texas' move toward a smart grid system. TNMP's advanced meters are powered by cellular technology.
Q: Who approved TNMP's advanced meter deployment?
The Public Utility Commission of Texas approved all advanced meter deployment in Texas.
Q: Do I have to receive an advanced meter?
The Public Utility Commission of Texas in June 2014 approved an agreement in which TNMP can enable customers to opt out of having an advanced meter used at their premises. Customers who would like to apply to opt out can send an e-mail to email@example.com. An application and additional information will be sent to customers via U.S. Mail.
Q: Have other Texas TDUs made the switch to advanced meters?
Yes. TNMP is the fourth and last transmission and distribution service provider to install advanced meters in Texas.
Q: How long will the installation take across TNMP's service areas in Texas? Why so long?
The installation will take about five years because each installation is a manual, door-to-door process, and TNMP has a large, geographically dispersed service area. Our five-year plan allows TNMP to install across this large area at a cost-effective pace. In addition, stringent quality testing to ensure reliability adds more time to the installation schedule.
Q: Who does this affect?
All homes and businesses that receive transmission and distribution services from TNMP are part of the advanced meter rollout. An exception will be customers who already have a type of advanced meter – Interval Data Recorder meters. These are used primarily by large industrial customers and will not be replaced.
Q: What are you doing with the old meters?
TNMP has a contract to sell the old meters to a company that will use some components, including metal, and recycle the remaining parts. The revenue from this sale was factored into the total project cost.
Q. What is TNMP doing to communicate with consumers about the switch to advanced meters?
TNMP is providing customers with information about the switch through a variety of ways, including door hangers once the meter is installed and information on a dedicated website.
Q. What’s the difference between advanced meters and an analog meter?
An analog meter measures usage through dials that have to be manually read. An advanced meter digitally reads and captures power usage data every 15 minutes. The device then uses two-way technology to "talk" through the existing cellular network and send accurate, real-time data to customers, grid operators and utilities.
Q. What are the advantages of advanced meters for customers?
The primary benefit is that it provides customers with more control over their energy usage by giving them more real-time information about energy consumption. Advanced meters also soon will enable TNMP to provide quicker responses to outages. Customer privacy also is improved because customers no longer have to provide meter readers with backyard access for regular meter readings. In addition, retail electric providers can offer consumers a variety of new programs and services as a result of the more timely and accurate data advanced meters provide. For example, pre-paid service and time-of-use pricing plans can be made available to customers with advanced meters.
Q. When will customers begin to see the benefits of the transition to advanced meters?
Customer access to near real-time data on their specific usage should be available through www.SmartMeterTexas.com within 30 – 45 days after installation of an advanced meter. As back-office systems are installed in support of advanced meter technology, advanced meters will enable TNMP to provide quicker responsiveness to outages. Other services will vary depending on which retail electric provider you select.
Q. How can I reduce energy costs through my advanced meter? How soon after installation?
One easy way is to regularly track your energy use through www.SmartMeterTexas.com. Knowing when your energy use is higher or lower from day to day helps you make decisions on simple changes like lowering or raising your thermostat. In addition, customers could shift energy use to off-peak hours to take advantage of lower energy costs, if available. Consumers are urged to contact their retail electric provider to learn more about types of programs and pricing plans offered to customers with advanced meters.
Q. What can customers do if they have questions or concerns about the digital meters?
Q. How are you determining the installation schedule? What about the users who pay the surcharge the same length of time as everyone else but are the last to have the advanced meter installed/see the benefits?
The installation schedule is based on population. TNMP started in its most populated service areas and is moving across its system to more rural locations. That strategy is to get the most meters deployed as quickly as possible. Even though customers will pay a monthly surcharge prior to actually getting an advanced meter on their house, there are other costs associated with advanced meters that have to be paid up front. For example, the back-office systems to collect and manage data need to be in place before the first meter is installed. Even though not all homes have meters at the same time, the technology backbone to serve them at a future date is already being built.
Q. Do residential customers need to be home for the installation?
No. TNMP’s installers will knock on your door to see if you are home so that you’ll know to expect a brief outage while the installation takes place, but your presence at home is not necessary for the installation.
Q. How will TNMP communicate the installation schedule with customers?
Customers can visit www.PowerInYourHands.com to view a comprehensive deployment schedule by city.
Q. What are the logistics of installation for business customers?
TNMP will do everything it can to reduce outage times. While the entire installation process is usually less than 10 minutes, and outage times are far less than 1 minute, if a meter bypass is not available, business customers can make an appointment to have their new meter installed to further reduce disruption.
Q. What is the technology behind an advanced meter?
TNMP is using the SmartSynch advanced meter by GE, which uses a cellular secure wireless network for communication.
Q. Are the advanced meters more accurate than analog meters?
Both advanced meters and analog meters are extremely accurate – more than 99 percent. In addition to being extremely accurate, advanced meters reduce the chance of human error.
An independent study of TNMP's SmartSynch advanced meters, conducted by Navigant Consulting, showed an accuracy rate above the minimum required by the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC). It tested meters that had not yet been deployed, meters that had been installed, then removed for testing and meters in service in the field. The study found all 648 meters to be accurate to within +/- 0.5 percent, better than +/- 2.0 percent required by the Public Utility Commission.
In addition, to ensure accuracy of its advanced meters, TNMP has multiple test phases in place prior to, during and after installation. TNMP's thorough testing process includes testing - at GE and again at SmartSynch - random pallets from the company's shipment, digital captures of the old meter before it is removed, and comparison testing of the old and new meters within a week of installation.
Q. Will advanced meters cause a hike in my energy bill?
As analog meters age, there are some models in the TNMP system where the dial will spin a bit slower due to wear. Although TNMP has a rigorous testing program for meters, sometimes a meter will "slip through the cracks" and miss being tested. There is a remote possibility that you might see a higher bill once your new meter is installed if your analog meter was an older model.
Your new meter will measure your usage more accurately so your electricity bill may be slightly higher. TNMP will test each analog meter when it is removed and will notify you if your old meter was running slowly. This is not expected to be a common occurrence. There are many factors that affect your bill. The biggest factor is how much energy you use. Advanced meters give you near real-time data on that use, putting more control in your hands.
Q. How can you ensure a digital reading is accurate? What tests are in place throughout the life of an advanced meter to ensure accuracy?
TNMP will conduct extensive quality control for meters (triple meter test before installation).
These tests include:
- GE meters are pre-calibrated and tested to comply with accuracy standards prior to delivery to TNMP
- Smart Synch installs the communication module and retests the meter for accuracy and reliability prior to delivery to TNMP
- TNMP will test 4 random meters from every palette delivered
- If any defects are found, another 4 will be tested. If the defect rate exceeds 2 per palette, the palette is returned to Smart Synch
In addition, TNMP is conducting additional testing during and post installation:
- A photo of the analog meter is taken before it is removed so there is a digital record of the old reading. The digital records are tied to specific locations. If there is a question about an incorrect starting read, TNMP can pull the record to validate.
- Each analog meter is then tested by TNMP. If it appears to be running inaccurately or slow, compared to the new advanced meter, TNMP will notify the customer.
Q. I’ve heard others talk about faulty advanced meters and inaccurate readings. How does TNMP respond?
The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) commissioned an independent study of TNMP's SmartSynch advanced meters being deployed in Texas, conducted by Navigant Consulting. This study showed an accuracy rate above the minimum required by the PUCT. It tested meters that had not yet been deployed, meters that had been installed, then removed for testing and meters in service in the field. The study found all 648 meters to be accurate to within +/- 0.5 percent, better than +/- 2.0 percent required by the PUCT.
In addition, to ensure accuracy of its advanced meters, TNMP has multiple test phases in place prior to, during and after installation (see above).
Q. How does an advanced meter work with the TNMP system?
Advanced meters are "smart" because they can be read remotely and can respond to a limited set of operational commands issued by the utility via a wireless communications path. The communications between the meter and the utility is "two-way."
TNMP's advanced meters use a cellular connection (just like your cellular phone) to communicate with the utility's computers, which then collect the meter information such as customer usage, outage alarms, and tamper alarms. That information is then passed to the retail electric provider or other utility systems that monitor and operate the grid.
Advanced meters also can communicate with customers. By using in-home displays (available from your retail electric provider or home improvement store), meters can connect to the displays and tell customers how much energy they are consuming.
Q. How can I read my energy usage online? When will an online portal be available to me? If so, when? How will this technology work?
You can read your usage online at www.SmartMeterTexas.com 30 - 45 days after your meter is installed.
Q. How is my advanced meter read?
Your meter readings are sent via a secure cellular data network to TNMP.
Q. Can others watch/monitor exactly how I use my electricity?
No. In Texas, the customer owns his or her data, and there are specific consumer protections in place related to how the data is used. Usage data is transmitted to REPs so the customer can be properly billed. TNMP also is using very secure point-to-point communication technology, which means that each home talks directly to the utility company (as opposed to a “mesh” system where data is collected through a neighborhood hub and then sent to the utility).
Q. Will the electric company ever be able to “control” my energy usage?
No, not without your consent. With your consent, utilities have the ability to control certain things, like air conditioners, to reduce load. For example, “load management” programs give a utility permission to cycle off air conditioners, or other equipment, during peak usage times of the day to relieve stress on the system. Additional equipment would need to be installed in your home to be able to participate in these programs. An advanced meter can only allow power to be turned on or off remotely but cannot cycle power down.
Q. Can anyone steal my identity/personal information through my advanced meter?
No. There is no personal information stored on a TNMP advanced meter. Hacking a meter and gaining access to its internal operating system only provides limited control of the meter – and the intruder would have to understand how the meter’s operating system works in order to compromise the functionality of the meter. This is a difficult and low-value opportunity for random hackers.
TNMP’s advanced meters are especially difficult to hack. TNMP meters use existing cellular airwaves and robust security architecture to ensure customer data is transmitted securely and reliably. All messages transmitted across the network are encrypted using keys that are built from multiple key seeds.
Encryption requires three unique keys, which provide meter-specific encryption. One key is unique to the meter vendor, one key is unique to the utility, and the other is unique to the meter. The meter has to pass three authentication challenges from the network and then attaches to a VPN tunnel created specifically for TNMP’s Access Point Name (APN), which is the AT&T designated private network that TNMP will utilize to communicate data to and from the meter to the back office.
Q. Do advanced meters have any emissions, such as harmful radio waves?
Radio frequency (RF) fields can be found anywhere on earth. They are emitted from common electronic devices, most notably cell-phones, as well as emanating from the earth and even the human body. The intermittent RF fields that are produced from advanced meters are well below those of other household items, such as cordless phones and microwaves.
Advanced meters communicate electricity usage information to your retail electric provider and your transmission and distribution utility (TDU) through brief radio frequency signals. They occur for less than one minute each day.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have developed safety standards, with which all advanced meters in use in Texas comply. The health effect requirements are based on years of research using the best scientific evidence at the time they were written, and no subsequent study has given the FCC a reason to reconsider its standard.
In applications such as these, the RF signals from advanced meters are typically about 1/70th of the FCC’s requirements. To learn more about radio technology and safety, visit the FCC website for radio frequency safety at www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety.
Q. How have advanced meters been tested and cleared for health concerns?
Q. How much will this installation cost a residential consumer? Business?
There will be a monthly charge of $3.40 for all residential consumers for 12 years. For businesses on a secondary service rate, the monthly charges are $8.20 (for less than 5 KW), and $13.63 (for more than 5 KW). For businesses on a primary service rate, the monthly charge is $17.32. TNMP periodically will “true up” these charges to ensure it is not recovering more than the actual cost of the meter deployment. As a result, it is possible some of the business charges might be adjusted downward or upward prior to the end of 12 years.
Q. Why doesn’t the surcharge begin when my advanced meter is installed?
Even though customers will pay a monthly surcharge prior to actually getting an advanced meter at their house or business, there are other costs associated with advanced meters that have to be paid up front. For example, the back office systems to collect and manage data need to be in place before the first meter is installed. So even though all homes and business will not have meters at the same time, the technology backbone to serve them at a future date is already being built.
Q. How did you determine this surcharge?
The surcharge was determined by state regulators to recover the cost of the project and allocate those costs over an adequate number of years to minimize the bill impact to customers.
Q. How will this be shown on my electric bill?
It is up to the retail electric provider you have chosen to show the charge on your bill. It may be aggregated with all of your delivery charges or shown as a separate line item.
Q. Are advanced meter costs associated with the homeowner or the house? For example, if I move, would I have to pay for a new advanced meter if it hasn’t been installed yet?
The advanced meter costs are associated with the premise.
Q. Who will install my advanced meter?
Contract installers working on behalf of TNMP from Utility Partners of America (UPA) will be installing the advanced meters.
Q. Do I need to be home for the installation?
Q. Will I have advance notice of the installation?
Yes. On the day of the installation, the installer will knock on your door to let you know they are there, giving you an opportunity to turn off any appliances or equipment before you experience the brief outage caused by the installation.
Q. What if I have a locked fence and/or pets in the backyard? How will this be handled?
If you need to make special arrangements, call 877-423-3199.
Q. Will anyone jump over my fence to install the advanced meter?
No. We will follow the same procedures to install the new meters as we do when we read meters. TNMP will only enter property that we can easily access. For locked fences, dogs, etc., we will contact the homeowner to schedule an appropriate time.
Q. What do I need to do to prepare for my new advanced meter?
Please make sure your meter is accessible so that it can be replaced.
Q. Can the installation cause damage to my home?
Some damage to customer-owned equipment has been reported by other utilities in older homes that weren’t up to code. These instances have been rare. TNMP has developed procedures with its installers to check equipment that may be especially vulnerable to damage prior to leaving the premise.
Q. How will installers be identified?
Contract installers from Utility Partners of America (UPA), working on behalf of TNMP, will install the advanced meters. The contractors will be wearing light blue shirts with both the TNMP logo and the UPA logo. They will be driving white trucks with both logos visible.
Q. How long will the installation take at my home?
The entire installation process is usually less than 10 minutes at residential sites with outages being less than one minute.
Q. Will I experience any interruption in power during this time?
Yes, there will be a brief power interruption of less than one minute.
Q. Does my retail electric provider know about my new advanced meter, or do I need to let them know?
Yes. Your retail electric provider will be notified when your advanced meter is installed. You do not need to notify them.
Q. Who can I contact with questions?
Q. Where can I go for more information online?