More Specifics Emerge on Consumers Energy Smart Meter Rollout

Andrew Trzaska | May 22, 2012

Consumers Energy is bringing 2-way communicating, “smart” electrical meters to Muskegon County, and more particulars have emerged about what the new meters can do and how the utility company will go about installing them.

The utility will start installation of its meters system-wide in Muskegon County from August 2012 through March 2013, then will work through all other service areas by 2019.   Roger Morgenstern, Smart Grid Communications Coordinator for Consumers Energy, has been making rounds of the county’s councils and boards to inform them of the upcoming changes.  He stopped at Muskegon Heights’ city council work session Monday to explain the mass installation in Muskegon, and why they are starting here first.

“We think this area is a good microcosm,” said Morgenstern, referring to the geographical diversity of the land in Muskegon County.

The installation process will take less than five minutes per meter and will require a brief power interruption.  Morgenstern noted that letters will be received by customers approximately one month ahead of time, and day-of notification will now happen as well. If a customer is home at the time of installation, the meter changer will knock and notify the resident of the power interruption.  If a resident is not home, a door hanger will be left to indicate the swap.

Morganstern shared more details about how the 2-way communication on the meters will work.

As previously reported, they will measure the house’s electrical use hourly and will send those reports to Consumers Energy through two levels of encryption to the utility through cell phone networks.

At Monday’s Muskegon Heights work session, Morganstern indicated the network would be Verizon, which applies the second level of encryption on top of the proprietary Consumers Energy encryption.  Addressing privacy concerns, Morganstern stated that an intruder on the Verizon network may be able to get energy usage numbers, but won’t be able to connect them to specific users.

Those still concerned about privacy now have the ability to opt out, instead keeping a manually-read meter.  There will be a cost for keeping that older technology active, according to Morgenstern, but the Michigan Public Service commission will decide soon whether the utility or customer will eat that cost.

At Monday’s meeting, Morganstern also went into more detail about what benefits the meters could provide both the utility and its customers.

Outage reports will be received directly from devices instead of waiting for customers that call them in.  Customers may soon be able to prepay and receive alerts when they are near a certain level of energy usage. Incentive rates can be set up, giving customers a discount when they use energy at off-peak times.

Morgenstern stressed the need for the upgrade in reporting power.

“The grid is really 100 years old, and it is unchanged in those 100 years. But we have more that needs electricity and there is a need for better information about what is using electricity and how.”

Consumers Energy is set to communicate with local law enforcement agencies to alert them to the presence of these meter installers.  Morgenstern indicated that their contracted installer, Wisconsin-based Corix Utilities, will be utilizing Michigan residents for the installation, which could reach 3,000 units per week.

Andrew Trzaska

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