Energy Meters Raise Questions and Concern in Columbia

4 years 7 months 2 days ago Thursday, November 21 2013 Nov 21, 2013 Thursday, November 21, 2013 6:38:00 AM CST November 21, 2013 in News
By: Morgan Uber, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA - Energy meters are advancing in a way that raises a concern of privacy in the home. The issue has been discussed in cities across the nation and has now been addressed in Columbia, but city officials say residents should not be concerned for now.

Kelly Pascucci is a resident of Columbia and voiced her concern during a city council meeting on Oct. 21 in regards to the way energy is measured in her home.

Pascucci believed the energy meter on her home was a smart meter. A smart meter is a two-way communication system between the appliances in the home and the utility company.

Smart meters collect the information from an individual appliance in 15-minute intervals, which can signal when people are present in a building. These types of meters tell utility companies when lights are turned on and off and include details about when appliances like microwaves and dishwashers are in use. 

No Columbia homes have smart meters. However, Pascucci decided to request an analog meter from the utility company. These meters use a needle which moves across a granulated scale or dial to measure energy in the home. The analog meter has no data generated about personal habits and no issues of intrusion.

Columbia Water and Light said the R300 CENTRON meters found on almost all of the residential homes in Columbia do not have the two-way communication system.

Itron is the manufacturer for the R300 CENTRON meters. The company confirmed the way Columbia uses these meters does not tell utility companies specifics on which appliances are being used and when.

There are types of CENTRON meters that can act as a two-way smart meter if the city chose to partner with Aclara Metering Transponders, but the R300 CENTRON meter found on most residential homes does not have the capability to communicate the way a smart meter does.

Connie Kacprowicz is a utility services specialist for Columbia Water and Light. She says there are two-way smart meters on some commercial buildings in Columbia for the purpose of demand, but the residential meters are a one-way communication system. 

"The electric utilities area end at the electric meter," Kacprowicz said. "So any type of usage inside the house and how it's being used is not able to be detected by the meters."

A truck comes by once a month to collect the energy usage data from the meter. If a member in the community wanted to access the information regarding the total amount of energy a home uses during the month, he or she would have the right to do so.

"Columbia Water and Light is a municipal utility so someone through the Sunshine Law could request usage data. That in no way would be any data on how they are using their TV, when their air conditioner turns on, whether they are home or not. We don't have that detailed information," Kacprowicz said.

Columbia Water and Light says the installation of smart meters on residential homes may be a topic of discussion in the future, but any type of decision on going to a true smart meter system will be made by the city council and would have the opportunity for public input.

City council member Laura Nauser says she believes Columbia residents should have the option for which type of meter is installed on their home. If they do feel a certain meter is threatening their privacy, the residents should have the right to request a new meter from the city or utility company.

Pascucci's goal is to educate people on the different options of meters for residential homes.

For more information on the energy meters in Columbia, Columbia Water and Light has more information on the city's website

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