Consumers Energy To Install “Smart” Meters Across Muskegon County In Next Two Years

Andrew Trzaska | February 28 , 2012

All Consumers Energy customers in Muskegon County will receive a new “smart” meter in the next two years, which will allow customers and Consumers Energy to get statistics on energy usage in almost real time

Roger Morgenstern, Smart Grid Communications Coordinator for Consumers Energy in Jackson, MI spoke at Tuesday’s full Muskegon County Board of Commissioners meeting to explain the technology.

Today, the county’s 96,000 power meters still must be checked on-site once a month, a job that employs nine people.

Consumers Energy will install 60,000 meters across Muskegon County in 2012, and will complete the job by installing the remaining 36,000 in 2013.

The new smart meters will look a lot like what is on buildings now, but will contain extra transmitter technology that will send hourly updates to Consumers Energy of power usage. These stats will be sent to the power utility through existing cellular networks, with two levels of encryption to protect any private information being transmitted.

Customers will be able to log on to a secure website to “almost instantaneously” track energy usage, according to Morgenstern.

General Electric will produce the meters, which employ their SmartSynch technology.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Corix Utilities, “an experienced meter installation vendor, is performing the majority of the installations as [Consumers Energy’s] authorized contractor,” according to documents provided by the utility company.

Installations will take minutes but will require a brief power reset in one’s house. Any repairs to existing meter setups will be done at this time, free-of-charge:

“There will not be a bill left behind for the customer,” said Morgenstern.

District 10 Commissioner Ben Cross questioned how many of the nine meter reading jobs will be lost due to this switch. Morganstern noted that some but not all of the positions would be changed, but talks with unions will likely lead to those positions being moved to other positions within the company.

“We’re not looking to reduce meter reading force until 2013,” said Morgenstern. “But we’ve already begun those discussions.”

Morganstern also looked to quell concerns of “big brother” invading people’s houses with this 2-way technology, raised by District 2 commissioner Alan Jager and District 11 commissioner Bob Scolnik.

The meters are set to record how much energy is being used and does not have the ability to reach inside a house and turn off specific devices or track usage of those items.

“We do shut off customers now for nonpayment after a series of letters and phone calls,” said Morganstern. “But no, we’re not going to say ‘hey we don’t like you’ or ‘you’re using an inefficient air conditioner’ and shut off power.”

“Knowledge is information and what we’re trying to do is get information out there.”

Along with notifying customers ahead of their meter switches in the next two years, Consumers Energy also plans to hold several programs about energy savings. Agendas, topics and dates have not yet been set for these programs.

Consumers Energy documents indicated that more information on the technology can be found on their web site.

No large-scale deployment of smart meters in West Michigan has yet taken place, however about 60 were installed in Grand Rapids in one neighborhood last summer.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst