Seattle City Light rolling out new AMI connected meters

Larry Weis, General Manager of Seattle City Light, told the council this morning that its new Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system is rolling out, and installation of new meters will ramp up this summer.

The new digital meters include wireless radios that allow SCL to collect consumption data without sending meter-readers out to your house every other month. That saves work for the utility, and saves customers from having SCL workers trying to access their property to read the meter.  The promise of the new meters is not only to reduce the utility’s ongoing costs, but also to provide customers with accurate real-time information on their usage — including potential integration with smart home systems. And they have other benefits: allowing the utility to activate service at a location remotely and immediately without sending a truck out to the site; better support for integrating rooftop solar panels into the grid; and immediate notification for the utility when outages and brownouts occur.

Weis gave several statistics as an update on how the rollout is proceedings:

  • 99% of the wireless mesh network that the AMI system uses is installed across the city: 48 of 49 data collection points, and 335 of 340 network routers.
  • They have already begun installation of the meters as part of new service installations; so far 700 have been installed.
  • Mass deployment, including replacing existing meters at homes and businesses, will ramp up by August 5th. They expect to complete the rollout across the city by December 31, 2018.

In preparation for the mass rollout, SCL will begin communicating with its customers about the effort in mid-June.

According to SCL’s web site, as of 2014 over 500 utilities across the United States had already adopted advanced metering infrastructure and deployed 50 million meters; that’s 43 percent of American households. A recent report gives similar figures.

Advanced meters have their detractors, including a local group of activists who frequently show up to Council meetings and warn about privacy issues and other dangers they see with the meters. The Stranger looked at this a few years back. Keep in mind: the meter technology has advanced dramatically in the last few years as demand and deployment has expanded, so issues that may have existed in the earliest days of the nationwide AMI rollout are probably resolved by now. It’s good to be concerned about the privacy and security concerns related to networked digital meters and whether SCL is competently implementing the system to be safe and secure; on the other hand, concerns can also veer into tinfoil-hat territory (“New World Order- Agenda 30 – Hegelian Dialectic” anyone?)

As part of SCL’s rollout of the AMI program, it completed a Privacy Impact Assessment, which was approved by the city’s IT department. The document explains many aspects of how the system is designed to protect users’ privacy (assuming it’s implemented faithfully).

Based on the concerns raised, SCL has implemented an “opt out” program so that customers can choose not to have a new meter installed. They noted that all customer communications related to the AMI program will contain information on how to opt out of the program. It should be noted, however, that opting out comes at a hefty price: both a one-time fee of $124 for installation of a non-AMI meter, and a recurring charge of $15.87 on each bill (every two months), presumably to recover the costs of sending SCL staff out to read the meter and record the usage.

Look for more information on the rollout of the new meters next month in your bill.