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Denise Baratta / for the Mail TribuneMichael Powell with Pacific Power checks the locking clip on a newly installed smart meter Monday in Jacksonville.

All charged up: Pacific Power begins installation of 'smart meters'

After a free installation that took fewer than five minutes on Monday afternoon, Jacksonville resident Amber Peavyhouse will have a new way of measuring her power usage.

Peavyhouse is one of the first of 88,000 Pacific Power customers who will receive new smart electric meters over the next three months.

“This has already been a very smooth transition, and we’ve kept in close communication with our customers to make this a very easy process,” said Christina Kruger, Pacific Power’s regional business manager for Southern Oregon.

Overall, Pacific Power is making the change on 590,000 meters across Oregon through the fall of 2019.

Smart meters collect energy usage data for billing information and transmit the data through Pacific Power’s secure wireless network, Kruger said.

The information is then sent to Pacific Power several times a day using short, low-power radio transmissions, and is readily available online to customers.

Peavyhouse said this new real-time element of checking her power usage will work to her advantage, allowing her to check how much power is being used and make changes throughout the month as necessary.

“Before, it was a lot like driving and looking in the rearview mirror, and you realized you used a lot of power or that something was wrong after it was too late to change it,” she said. “Now, we can check our usage consistently and adjust before it’s the end of the month and the bill comes in the mail.”

According to Pacific Power, smart meters are set to instantly track outages, allowing for faster service response and shorter outages; let customers view their power usage hourly, so they can adjust their activity to reduce their carbon footprint and bills; and update the grid to work more efficiently and better integrate renewable power sources.

Customers will be able to start viewing hourly usage about six weeks after a new smart meter is installed, according to Pacific Power.

Some residents have raised concerns about possible safety hazards and risks with the new meters. Some residents feel the smart meters pose a danger through exposure to electromagnetic frequencies and could lead to an invasion of privacy because of detailed data-gathering.

Pacific Power, however, says that the exposure is far less than what’s experienced from common household equipment, and that smart meters cannot track or record usage on individual appliances and do not gather specifics on how a household is using energy.

“We understand that some people have concerns, but we waited to adopt and install these meters until the technology was mature and we were confident that it would live up to our safety and security measures, which is why we are making this transition now,” Kruger said. “More than 70 million homes and businesses around the U.S. already have smart meters, and we feel confident that people have nothing to worry about.”

Peavyhouse said she was not concerned about potential privacy violations or health hazards that have been raised, and does not feel “at all at risk with this change.”

Oregon customers can choose to opt out of the change, but face a one-time meter exchange fee of $137 and a monthly meter reading fee of $36. Less than 1 percent of people have chosen to opt out, Kruger said.

Since Pacific Power employees will no longer have to make monthly home visits to collect information, about 100 meter reader jobs have been lost, Kruger said. However, about 25 percent of those have been moved to other positions.

Around one month after each smart meter installation, a Pacific Power employee will visit the home again to ensure everything is operating correctly, Kruger said.

“I think anything that is new and involves technology is met with a little bit of resistance,” Peavyhouse said. “But for all I can see, smart meters will only be a benefit.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Morgan Theophil at mtheophil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4485. Follow her on Twitter @morgan_theophil.

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