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Memo to So. California: Here Come the Smart Meters

Southern California Edison (SCE) is closing in on its 36-month campaign to replace nearly 5 million electricity meters with so-called smart meters.

The round, gray digital devices no bigger than a soup bowl, not only track the consumer’s energy use but transmit the information back to the utility for billing purposes.

“The technology will let our customers manage their electricity consumption more wisely and save between 1-5% on their energy bills, said Ken Devore, director of SCE’s SmartConnect, at a New America Media briefing sponsored by SCE for ethnic media representatives in Bakersfield earlier this month. “It’s also the first step in a path to a smart grid for California as a whole,” he said.

To date, SCE has installed more than 4.6 million smart meters in its target market. Between mid-September and December, it will cover the San Joaquin Valley, the last of SCE’s regions to get the smart meter.

The Edison SmartConnect campaign is part of a $1.6 billion program authorized by California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in 2008 that mandated all utilities in the state make the switch to smart meters.

Customer benefits include the Budget Assistant program, which customers can take advantage of to save on their monthly bill and control their energy usage. Through the program customers can set a monthly budget and receive alerts through e-mail, voicemail or text message when they are approaching that limit. Each morning by 8 a.m., smart meter customers will have access to their energy usage data from the previous day through SCE.com, letting them check their energy consumption as they would check a bank account.
The site also highlights ways for customers to reduce usage and save money.

Once enough consumers have smart meters, Devore noted, the state will have a reliable, safer and more affordable future in electricity. If enough people are able to shift their usage of electricity outside of the peak hours of 2-6 p.m. every day, the state would be able to build fewer power plants, buy less power, import less power and become more efficient overall, he asserted.

Residential customers have the option to choose an Edison SmartConnect meter or a traditional electric meter. Customers who opt out of the program will pay a $75 onetime setup fee and a $10 recurring monthly charge as required by the California PUC.

Income-qualified customers pay $10 for the initial setup fee and then $5 a month. Customers may opt out by calling 800-810-2369. The cost covers manual meter reading and associated operational and billing activities. To date, about 1,000 customers have opted out, less than a fraction of 1% of SCE’s customers.

SCE has partnered with Corix Utilities Inc. to install most of the smart meters. Some important information for those receiving the new meters includes:

—Customers will receive advance notice by mail when installations are scheduled in their neighborhood.
—Customers do not need to be home, but should provide clear access to their meters. The installer will leave a door hanger indicating if the installation was successful, or if an appointment for installation is required due to access issues.
—During a typical residential installation, customers will experience a short power interruption of less than a minute. As an extra measure of protection, customers are encouraged to plug electronic equipment, such as personal computers and televisions, into power surge protectors. Typically, no service interruption is required for smart meter installations at small businesses.
—Customers who operate life support medical equipment at their addresses, or have concerns about power interruptions, may call SCE at 800-973-2356.
—Corix installers carry identification indicating they are approved SCE contractors.
—Smart meter customers will receive follow-up mail, notifying them when new program features and services are available and how to access them.

SCE’s customer call centers can assist customers in seven languages. These call centers are the pulse of the organization focusing on advise, council and help to callers because they want their customers to succeed, said Devore.

Southern California Edison serves nearly 14 million people in a 50,000-square-mile service area within Central, Coastal and Southern California.

For more information, please go to www.sce.com/edisonsmartconnect.