In fall 2018, LP&L will begin a multi-year, multi-phase process to implement advanced metering in Lubbock to replace the current electric meters, which are aging and need to be upgraded. This technology investment will improve billing accuracy and customer service, empower customers, improve outage management and enhance reliability.
Lubbock is joining the ranks of other growing Texas cities that have implemented advanced meters including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, San Marcos, Bryan, Georgetown, Kerrville, Seguin and Fredericksburg. Advanced metering technology is also used by members of our neighboring electric provider, South Plains Electric Cooperative.
This project is part of a larger infrastructure improvement program to invest in the reliability and capacity of LP&L’s transmission, production and information systems.
The new meters will be read automatically and provide the most reliable and accurate information in near-real time. This eliminates manual meter reading errors and improves billing accuracy and customer service.
Once the customer portal launches, customers will also be able to view and track their own energy use as often as they’d like, which can help them save energy and money.
Advanced meters send electricity use information remotely via a secure two-way communication network. The data is then processed and translated into customers’ bills. All readings will be encrypted, and no personal information will ever be sent via the communication network.
Once the customer gets a new meter, City of Lubbock Utilities customer service will be able to provide more detail on the customer’s energy use.
The new meters improve outage management by automatically alerting LP&L to outages, even before a customer reports them. They also automatically identify the location of the outage. These things help reduce the time required to restore power to affected customers. Additionally, the new meters allow LP&L to conduct a load analysis of our transformers and accurately and efficiently forecast Lubbock’s current and future energy needs, enhancing reliability of our system.
In most cases, the advanced meter will take the place of customers’ existing meter in the location where the meter currently resides. If the existing meter currently sits in the alley, that is where the new meter will be installed.
The new meters will automatically and remotely read usage information, reducing the possibility of manual meter reading errors and improving billing accuracy.
Advanced meters record electricity use throughout the day, providing a better understanding of when and how much electricity was used.
Once the web portal is launched, customers can view their own electric use in near real time to help identify and address high use patterns before their monthly bill is calculated. They can also quickly and easily compare their electricity use to the reading on their bill.
If customers still have questions, they can contact a customer service representative to look into the matter further.
Advanced meters are rigorously tested for accuracy by the manufacturer, and again by the utility before they are installed. Additionally, all meter manufacturers must follow the American National Standards Institute C12.20 Standard for Electric Meters – accuracy and performance.
One of LP&L’s top goals with the implementation of advanced meters is improved billing accuracy. Advanced meters increase accuracy by reducing the potential for human error.
Over the past four years, LP&L customers have been vocal about concerns related to the meter reading process. LP&L is committed to improving the process and continuing to build trust, confidence and transparency.
Currently, City of Lubbock Utilities has meter readers walk designated routes every working day of the month to manually read meters and enter the readings into handheld devices. The devices have a built-in accuracy tool that alerts meter readers if a read is out of the typical range. Once the manual readings are returned to the office, multiple individuals continue verification of the readings prior to the bill being generated. Even with this process and controls in place, errors do occur. This is why the utility has a process of re-reading meters and performing meter testing when necessary.
Currently, customers have one reading per month to reference after they have already used the electricity. Advanced meters allow for automatic readings in 15-minute intervals so that as the month progresses, customers can get a better picture of how their energy usage is shaping up day by day. They also have the opportunity to make changes to their energy use before the month ends to help manage their monthly statement total.
Currently, the City of Lubbock Utilities meter reading department reads 187,000 water and electric meters every month, and expects meter readers to have a meter reading error rate of less than 0.3 percent (no more than three errors per 1,000 meters read). With advanced meters, usage data is sent electronically, reducing the potential for human error. As such, we anticipate the overall error rate to decrease.
No utility can guarantee there will never be an error on a customer’s bill, and it would be irresponsible to make such claims. A top goal of this project is to improve the current meter reading practices with this technology and reduce the potential for errors.
LP&L will not be increasing rates to pay for the advanced metering system as it is fully funded under the current rate model. Additionally, a top stated goal of LP&L with the implementation of advanced meters is improved billing accuracy. By implementing advanced metering technology and replacing older meters that may not be reading with the same level of accuracy, LP&L will eliminate the manual meter reading process that lends itself to instances of human error.
Customer electric bills are based on the actual amount of electricity used, and the new meters will provide reliable and accurate readings of electricity use.
Several factors may contribute to increased electricity use in any given month; the largest factor being the time of year and the corresponding temperatures. Advanced meters will provide more detailed information than the current meters, so customers can better track and manage their use.
The Texas PUC has conducted accuracy testing of advanced meters and found them to be accurate.
The service availability fee is a set monthly fee to cover the costs associated with meter maintenance, customer service and the billing process. Although the meter will no longer be manually read, LP&L will still maintain the meters and service necessary to provide power to a given location. The City of Lubbock Utilities Customer Service Department will continue to provide assistance to customers of all five of the city’s utilities, and a billing system will still be required to process meter reads and to generate monthly statements.
Every year, the finance team re-evaluates every aspect of the service availability fee. If there is a reduction in costs associated with the different components that make up the service availability fee, the fee will be adjusted on the monthly billing statement.
The goal of LP&L and City of Lubbock Utilities is to not eliminate the jobs of the hard working men and women in meter reading positions. The meter reading role is going to transition into the responsibility of managing and maintaining the new technology. Over time, if there is a need to reduce the workforce related to this task, it will be achieved through attrition as opposed to proactive job elimination.
It is completely up to each customer if and how often they access their online account information. For those who choose to, LP&L and City of Lubbock Utilities seek to provide them with the best tools and information they need to make a real difference in their personal water and energy consumption and their monthly bills. Every customer that has a new meter will be able speak with a City of Lubbock Utilities customer service representative who can walk them through their statement and explain the charges in greater detail.
Today, approximately 68 percent of City of Lubbock Utilities customers pay their utility bill electronically each month. There has been a concerted effort to encourage customers to pay their statement electronically, as it is the most efficient payment method for the customer and the utility. As such, the online portal that customers see has been modified over time to include more information on personal usage patterns.
As City of Lubbock Utilities implements the new billing system slated for completion in 2020, they will be able to provide more information on an individual customer’s usage patterns as there will be more frequent automatic readings. This will give customers a more transparent and detailed picture of their daily electric use.
We are still in the initial phases of the project and have not determined specific functionality of the customer web portal. We plan to provide more information about the portal over the course of the project. We’re aiming to provide customers a variety of tools that give them greater control over their use and monthly bills.
First and foremost, there is no personal identifiable information transmitted by the system. Customer privacy and system security are top priorities for LP&L. Advanced meters send encrypted electricity use information remotely via a secure two-way communication network. The data is then processed and translated into customers’ bills.
The system uses the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and authentication to ensure all devices are correctly registered on the system. The system requires user authentication and has password protection for all operators.
No. Advanced meters send encrypted electricity use information remotely via a secure two-way communication network using the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). There is no personal identifiable information transmitted by the system. Electricity use information will not be segmented by source or appliance inside customers’ homes, and the meters will simply transmit the bulk usage information at regular intervals throughout the day.
While advanced metering systems do have the capability to integrate with smart appliances, LP&L has no intent to engage in such programs. If, in the future, such a system is requested by customers, LP&L would first need public approval from the LP&L Electric Utility Board and Lubbock City Council through revisions to the LP&L electric tariff.
The advanced meters themselves are just one component of the overall project that has been publicly discussed over the past few years.
The full cost of the customer information system project is approximately $35 million. The cost to implement advanced meters will be just under $15 million. However, the other components necessary for the system to be fully operational include implementation of the new billing system and meter data management system, estimated operations and maintenance of the system and meter base repairs and upgrades.
Advanced metering technology is required for a utility to enter the ERCOT market, and Lubbock is the largest utility system in the state that does not currently use advanced metering technology.
There will be many benefits to customers, both financially and from a customer service perspective, with this technology. There are also associated costs related to bringing on new technology and upgrading every single meter throughout the utility. We aim to install this system as cost effectively as possible in an effort to keep rates in the competitive position they are today.
The current base rate is structured to cover the ongoing cost of the advanced meters and billing system, and is not expected to increase or decrease throughout our six-year planning horizon.
In 2014, Lubbock Power & Light began an infrastructure improvement project to make investments in the reliability and capacity of its transmission, production and information systems to ensure a stable energy future for its customers and community. The improvements, including advanced meters, are funded through the base rate adjustments in 2014-2017.
The current base rate fully funds implementation of advanced metering technology and a new billing system, as well as the remainder of LP&L’s infrastructure improvement plan, which totals approximately $530 million. Advanced meters and the new billing system comprise $35 million of the $530 million infrastructure improvement cost. While the AMI project only comprises seven percent of the total cost, it is an integral part of improving the long-term reliability and functionality of the overall system.