The dawn of a new year marks the beginning of a new era for Wellsboro Electric Co. as we prepare to apply “smart grid” technology to our electric distribution system.
We have begun deploying two-way automatic meters, known as smart meters, at homes and businesses within our service territory as part of our Smart Choices project. This project will allow us to provide energy-saving choices to consumers, improve outage restoration times and set the stage for future energy conservation initiatives such as load management and time-of-use rates. So just what is this so-called “smart grid?” It’s basically an electric distribution system overlaid with computer intelligence and networking capabilities, allowing two-way communication between the utility and its customers. Smart grids have the potential to improve the efficiency of energy distribution and electric use, both through the grids’ design and through consumer participation. We were fortunate to be one of 100 utilities nationwide to receive federal stimulus funding for our smart grid project back in 2009. The $431,625 grant we received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is being used to purchase smart meters and related software and substation equipment to bring us to the forefront of 21st century electrical system technology. As part of our Smart Choices project, we began installing smart meters at various residential customer locations last month. We plan to have about 440 smart meters installed by mid-January, when we go “live” with the project and begin receiving meter readings here at the Wellsboro office. Over the course of the next two years, we will install two-way metering devices at the homes of over 2,600 residential customers — about half of our residential customer base — and all of our commercial and industrial accounts. The two-way meters will communicate to and from the office, providing customers with the ability to obtain accurate, near real-time electric use information from a home computer or the Wellsboro office. Customers will also be able to access their historic electric consumption data on an hourly basis in order to evaluate and potentially change their energy use habits. The smart grid technology will also enable us to determine how much and where energy is being consumed, and alerts us to voltage problems and power outages on the system, allowing us to restore outages and address electrical disturbances in a more efficient and cost-effective way. For most customers receiving two-way smart meters, no outage will be required. Those customers will be notified that their meter has been changed via a door tag. For some smart meter installations, a brief outage will be required. We will contact those customers directly to make arrangements for the outage, which usually lasts less than 10 minutes. Should you have questions about our Smart Choices project, please give us a call. Best wishes to all of our customers for a terrific New Year.