JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Meter readers will soon be a thing of the past for customers of Mississippi's largest private electrical utility.
The Mississippi Public Service Commission voted Thursday to allow Entergy Corp. to install automated meters beginning in 2019. Residential customers will have to pay an extra $3.25 per month for the meters, although the utility says savings generated by the meters may more than make up the total cost of $136 million to install them.
The subsidiary of New Orleans-based Entergy will begin work on communications and computer equipment in 2018, rolling out more than 450,000 meters from 2019 through 2021.
Customers in other states have objected to the meters, saying they give too much information to the utility, increase the risk of hackers attacking the electric grid, and could cause adverse health effects from radio transmissions. Regulators have generally rejected those arguments. Entergy will let people who don't want the meters opt out, but those customers will have to pay more to subsidize humans to read the meters.
Entergy projects that even after the costs of installing the meters, customers will get $183 million on benefits over the next 15 years. With electronic meters that can communicate with company data centers, current meter readers will no longer be needed. The company also projects less electricity will be stolen or go unaccounted for, and says it will be easier to resolve billing problems.
"These meters are the foundation for grid modernization technologies that will offer a wide range of benefits to our customers," Entergy Mississippi CEO Haley Fisackerly said in a statement.
The company says advanced meters will help it more accurately identify where power has gone out, allowing faster power restoration.
The meters will also allow Entergy to provide customers with more detailed energy usage information, allowing customers to avoid surprise high bills at the end of the month. Right now, there are no incentives for residential customers to shift energy usage to late night hours, when demand is low, but spokeswoman Mara Hartmann said that's something the company could explore in the future.
"If the customer actually uses the information, they should be able to have substantial savings," said Central District Public Service Commissioner Cecil Brown, a Democrat.
Nearly half of all electric meters nationwide have been converted already to similar devices.
Hartmann said Entergy is trying to find new jobs for contractors who now read meters.
Entergy has 445,000 customers in the western half of Mississippi.