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Frequently Asked Questions about Digital Meters

Berkeley Electric Cooperative is investing in new, digital TWACS (two-way automated communication system) meters to improve the efficiency and reliability of our electric system through Automated Meter Reading (AMR).  Many members have asked questions about these new meters and how they work. Here are the most common questions we have received -- and answers:

Will I lose electrical service during the installation?
Yes, for a few minutes.  You will need to reset electronic clocks and other devices.

How does my new automated meter work?
With these new meters, Berkeley Electric can read the meter remotely from the office.  Information from the meter is securely transmitted back to the Cooperative through the power lines.  Transmitting this information electronically means that a meter reader no longer comes to your house in person.

Why are we changing to the automated meters?
The meter upgrade provides Berkeley Electric Cooperative members with numerous benefits: 

  • Saves money by eliminating the labor and transportation costs of in-person meter reading
  • Improves billing accuracy, eliminating misreads or inaccurate readings
  • Identifies the location of outages more quickly, meaning a faster response time
  • Helps our members troubleshoot high-bill and service quality issues by providing information about power consumption, outage and blink count history and voltage information
  • Improves electric service reliability and power quality – fewer outages, blinks and surges
  • Helps secure the overall safety of the cooperative employee team

How much is this going to cost?
There will be no additional costs to members to install the new system. There is no rate increase anticipated in association with this project. Following the installation, the next bill that members receive will have two readings:  one for the old meter and one for the new meter. After this initial bill, there will only be one reading for the new meter.

Who will be changing out the meters?
Berkeley Electric Cooperative employees and contractors from Bellwether.

Do members have a choice in getting a new meter?
This is not a program. This is a system wide initiative to improve service and reduce costs. New meters will be installed on all accounts. The cooperative will change 100 percent of existing residential and commercial meters.

At this time, if members have a question about their energy usage, the cooperative must send operation personnel to the member/owner’s property to re-read the meter. With the new system, a Berkeley Electric Cooperative member service representative can access the meter information at the member's request and obtain the reading almost instantaneously.

Other features of the new system will provide more data that will enable us to provide you with power more efficiently. More importantly, the new meters will make detailed usage information available directly to our members whenever they want it so they can make decisions on the best way to use electricity efficiently.

What’s the difference between the new meters and the old meters?
It is important to note that the new meter records exactly the same type of information as the existing meter, which is simply the total amount of electricity used by members. The new meters will continue to display the meter reading, but it will be in a digital LED format.  The biggest difference is that the new meters will be able to securely transmit securely this data back to the cooperative over the power lines without the need for a meter reader to come to your house. The meters communication stops at the meter base; it does not go inside the house.

Are there any potential health impacts from a meter that can send and receive data?
No. Berkeley Electric Cooperative values its members, their families and its employees and would not deploy a technology that it did not feel was safe.

Additionally, research conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the Utilities Telecom Council and others has revealed no health impacts from digital meters. The TWACS meters do not rely on radio frequencies (RF) to communicate from your house. Contrary to some misconceptions, while the new meters do emit an electromagnetic field (EMF) – as all electronic devices do – the levels are negligible (typically 0.3 milligauss) at a distance of one foot away from the device. Beyond this distance the EMF levels are almost undetectable.

Will the Cooperative be able to monitor what appliances I am using inside my home?
No.  The data collection stops at the meter itself and does not go inside the house. The Cooperative only records the total amount of electricity used by the household. There is no way for the Cooperative, or anyone else, to know how you are using the electricity inside your home.

Will the Cooperative be continually monitoring my usage around the clock?
No. Berkeley Electric serves over 85,000 meters in the Lowcountry which would make it impractical, if not impossible, to continually monitor the usage of all its members. The only time your usage data will be looked at is at your request or when the meter reports that there may be a problem at your location. However, the usage data will be continually available to the member as a tool to improve energy efficiency.

What information does the new meter record?
The new meter records an electronic kWh reading, the date and time of energy usage, the overall peak demand of the electric account and the number of times the meter has experienced a loss of power for any reason. The meter will record the date and time of light blinks and the length of the power outage. The meter does not record any information about how the power is used inside your home.

Will I keep the same rate after the conversion?
Yes, members will continue to stay on the same rate class as they have in the past. There will be no increased cost to the member.

What if my bill reports more kWh usage than normal or I think my meter is not working correctly?
Contact your nearest Berkeley Electric Cooperative office right away to discuss your billing concerns. Electronic meters are more accurate than analog or mechanical meters. The new meters installed have been tested and meet American National Standards Institute (ANSI) regulations. The new meters allow for accurate readings and a consistent billing period.

Will meter readers ever need to come to read the meter manually again once the new meter is in place?
Probably not.  Meter readers will no longer regularly need to spend valuable time traveling to every meter for a monthly read.  All meter reads will be digitally transmitted back to the Cooperative headquarters.

Once Cooperative employees no longer need to read the meter, can obstacles be constructed that may make the meter inaccessible?
No. Reasonable access to equipment still must be maintained. This allows for Cooperative personnel to either read or maintain the meter if necessary.

What day of the month will the meters be read?
All of the Berkeley Electric Cooperative’s new meters will have information collected from them daily. However, for billing purposes, the member will continue to be billed on monthly schedules.

How will the Cooperative read the meters?
Berkeley Electric’s AMR system communicates via the Cooperative’s radio systems out to the electrical substations.  From there, the signal is passed to the meter over the Cooperative’s power lines.  The meter responds and information is transferred along the same path back to the computer server.  This network is secure.  The AMR module in the meter does NOT transmit RF (radio frequency) signals.

Will someone other than Berkeley Electric Cooperative be able to read the new meter?
The new meters will communicate with the Cooperative over a secure radio network and through the power lines themselves. Meter manufacturers incorporated security features and encryption technology into their meters, as recommended by national security experts.  Our goal is to upgrade our electric distribution system to make it safer, more secure, and more reliable. Your new digital meter is part of this effort. Once your new digital meter is installed, your Cooperative will be able to tell if someone “tampers” with your meter because the meter will report any tampering attempts to the Cooperative.

Will the Cooperative continue to do service inspections?
Routine inspections of all meters and services will continue in order to look for safety hazards, theft or other problems.

How secure will the new meters be?
The digital meter display is visible for members to be able to check their consumption.  All other information and data stored in the meter is secure and the meter is sealed.

Can the Cooperative disconnect electric service using the new meters?
Some meters will have remote disconnect capabilities depending on a member’s account status or participation in programs such as Pre-Paid Metering.

Will the new meter notify Berkeley Electric Cooperative when the power goes out?
The Cooperative’s Outage Management System will be able to “ping” meters to more efficiently and accurately verify outage situations.

How will I know if my meter has been changed?
The Berkeley Electric Cooperative employee or contractor will leave a door hanger on your front door to let you know they have changed the meter.  We will work with businesses to minimize any inconvenience.  You do not have to be present during the meter change.

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