As winter conditions approach that could hinder meter readers from collecting electric use data at isolated locations, Consumers Energy is eliminating the potential for bills based on estimated meter reads by continuing installations of meters that can be read remotely.
"More than 800,000 of our customers have already been updated since 2012 and we're accelerating efforts to install meters that eliminate estimated meter reads for our 1.8 million electric customers and our 600,000 natural gas customers who also depend on us for their electric service," said Garrick Rochow, Consumers Energy's vice president and chief customer officer.
"The new meters send us a once-per-day text-type message with energy use information that is the foundation for enhanced billing accuracy through the elimination of estimated meter reads. The communicating meters also help us to provide both residential and business customers with secure online access to their energy use information, so they can track their energy usage more closely and predict their bills before they arrive. By fall of 2016, the meters will also have the capability to contact us when power outages occur."
The Battle Creek, Jackson, Ludington, Saginaw and Tawas regions are scheduled for meter upgrades in 2016, while the Clare, Lansing and Midland areas will get meter upgrades in 2017.
As part of the upgrade, Consumers Energy will also install communication modules on natural gas meters of customers who also receive electric service, allowing remote meter reads of gas meters through the electric meters, which will also eliminate estimated meter reads for their natural gas.
Notifications of meter upgrades will arrive in the form of large blue informational postcards at homes about 30 days before the upgrades. Residents don't need to be home for the replacement, which takes only a few minutes, but they can call to make appointments if they choose.
Businesses will be contacted in advance through mailings, calls or outreach meetings, depending on their size and the complexity of their electric service.
Along with the ongoing regional installation schedule for the new meters, customers across the Consumers Energy electric service territory who have been identified as more-likely to receive frequent estimated meter reads are being pulled forward in the schedule to provide enhanced service to them, according to Rochow, and separate notification letters to those customers will be sent in coming weeks.
Households and businesses do have the option to continue using non-communicating meter technology and enroll in the manual meter reading program for $9.72 per month and a onetime cost of $69.39 to maintain the systems and infrastructure to support continued use of older meters.