PDT Staff Writer
Sandy Ross, Automatic Meter Reading Coordinator with Columbia Gas of Ohio, sits in the back of a van and watches the computer read meters. A job that used to take all day now takes minutes.
The van pulled out of Sixth Street, drove a block to Court Street and turned left. Two minutes after pulling out - “We have read 350 meters in two minutes,” Ross said.
Ross and External Affairs Specialist Shane Cartmill were demonstrating the new way gas meters are read in our area.
Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) is a computerized, radio-transmitted meter reading system. That technology allows Columbia Gas to eliminate every-other-month estimated meter readings and provides them with actual monthly electronic meter readings.
“We are confident that our bills were accurate in the estimation periods every other month, people just didn’t like that,” Cartmill said. “So this eliminates that. It gives them actual meter reading every month now. And their bill reflects that.”
Cartmill said the meter reading device is in the same frequency range as a cordless phone or garage door opener.
“This sends a signal every 15 seconds, but it’s like six milliseconds, so in a 24-hour period, it’s only signalling about 35 seconds a day,” Ross said.
Essentially, as of Feb. 28, there is no longer a need for someone to come inside your house to read your gas meter - no need for you to be home to give access. Now, the unit simply drives near your home and reads your meter.
“We had some people who were concerned about privacy and its being transmitted,” Cartmill said. “There is no account number, it’s just a unique number that goes to that. So it’s no account number. It’s nobody’s name. It’s nothing different than if you just walked up to a meter and saw. If you actually could, with a scanner, actually figure out how to download it, there’s nothing you could do with it. It’s pointless information. Anybody who would come along and say, ‘I’m really not that comfortable with it,’ it’s something we’re doing as part of our agreement to deliver gas. So we usually talk to the folks in person if we need to and then after we talk to them, show them how it works. They’re usually okay with it.”
Cartmill said Columbia is upgrading its meter reading technology as part of its plan to do more for customers by improving service and customer convenience.
“We started going this route back in around 2006, on a limited basis on hard-to-access accounts,” Ross said. “We then went to the PUCO (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio), and got the project approved, and started in Ohio in early 2009. So it has taken us four and a half years or so to install them on all of the houses. It’s the way all of the utilities are going.”
Cartmill said your next bill will reflect the reading made by the AMR, and he said other states are beginning to use the AMR including Indiana, which is using Ohio as a model.
“They’re seeing how we did it here to implement it,” Cartmill said. “Our project has gone smoothly and very well. So they’re taking what we’ve learned along the way and using it as their model for implementation.”
Approximately 73,300 meters across the Three Rivers (including Scioto County) and Ironton operating areas have now been upgraded with the new AMR devices, representing a $4.2 million Columbia Gas of Ohio investment in those areas. Cartmjill said the new AMR system installation is one of a series of programs comprising Columbia’s “Doing More for You,” commitment.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.