“Many of our members were concerned about radio frequencies or wireless transmission signals and the effect those might have on health,” said SMPA General Manager Kevin Ritter, in the aftermath of concerns voiced at recent public meetings. “SMPA has been researching these different technologies for advanced meters for more than two years, and we’ve chosen a meter that does not utilize radio frequencies or wireless technologies.”
The new meters use Two-Way Automatic Communication System, a hard-wired technology utilizing existing power lines to send and receive meter-reading data. The new meters will place data directly onto the existing 60 hertz voltage and current waves. TWACS software and equipment is manufactured by Aclara, a Missouri-based company that has worked with electric utilities across the county, including rural cooperatives, for more than 20 years.
TWACS technology will place naturally encrypted information on SMPA power lines, with members’ home meters modulating the electricity sine wave at or near the zero crossing and assigning it either a one or a zero. A member’s meter read will simply be a series of ones and zeros, riding the electricity current along with thousands of other ones and zeros from other member meters, that can be deciphered only by TWACS.
Aclara is the sole manufacturer and owner of TWACS technology. Since the meter data will flow on power lines, and not over the air via a wireless signal, it is not susceptible to wireless hacking. To hack into the system, an individual would require both Aclara’s proprietary equipment and software and SMPA power line coupling abilities.
SMPA will start installing the new meters later this month, starting with SMPA board members and managers, to ensure all equipment is functioning properly, and then begin a full installation process in the Silverton area, which should be completed by the end of the year. It will take approximately 18 months to complete the entire service territory.
Over the next year-and-a-half, members can expect to see a contractor from HD Supply installing the advanced meters on homes and businesses. Members do not need to be home when their meter is changed, but they will lose power for a few minutes on the day of the new meter’s installation.
Members can opt to not receive the new meters, and pay a monthly fee of $25. The fee; will not take effect until the entire project is complete. Members wishing to opt out of an advanced meter will need to sign an opt-out form available from the cooperative.
“We are giving our members a choice, but they have to realize that there is a cost associated with keeping an old meter,” said Ritter. “We’ll have to send a meter reader out to that meter each month to read it. And that means we’re spending money we could have avoided if the member allowed us to install an advanced meter.”
In the first year of operations SMPA estimates it will see a savings of more than $30,000 in meter reading costs (the co-op, with a 3,600 square-mile service territory, now conducts more than 13,500 on-site meter readings every month), leading to an annual reduction in its carbon footprint of approximately 64,000 pounds per year, and to cost savings, as well.