The Measure of Power

Posted: August 1, 2018

Shedding light on SVEC’s Metering Department

Bill Roberts inspects a meter at a member’s home.

Most Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative members give little thought to their electric meter unless their bill shows an extreme increase in power usage. But for the cooperative’s metering department, the devices are always front and center.

SVEC’s three advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) technicians cover a lot of ground each day. They handle everything from high bill investigations to the wiring for current transformers. But members are most likely to cross paths with them during the installation of a new meter.

All meters are tested for accuracy before they are installed. Additionally, technicians must often program commercial and specialty meters for a specific use such as solar or time-of-use service.

For especially large consumers, such as a factory or chicken house, technicians will also wire the electric meter to a current transformer, which takes a sample of the current before it reaches the meter. This limits the volume of electric current passing through the meter so that it isn’t overpowered.

“Think of it like the water in your home. If the flow is so high you can’t measure all of it, you could measure a quarter of it and multiply by four to get the full amount of water,” says Bill Roberts. “We measure a portion of the electricity going to the consumer and apply a multiplier to calculate their full usage. It’s the same principle but with electric current.”

SVEC takes this approach for members using more than 600 amps of electricity. Current transformers are needed because standard meters would be destroyed by the large currents required by these big consumers.

Problem Solvers

Electric meter0The responsibilities of the metering department go beyond setting up new equipment. Whenever a member is concerned that their electric bill is too high, a technician will visit their home to determine if there is a problem with the cooperative’s equipment.

While it’s rare that a problem with an electric meter will lead to higher bills, technicians can test a meter to ensure that it is recording accurate readings. Even when cooperative equipment is not at fault, Roberts says technicians will often work with members to investigate other possible causes of an unusual increase in usage.

“We don’t want them to have higher than necessary bills any more than they do,” he says. “So we’ll try the best we can to help identify the cause of the problem.”

Troubleshooting often involves attaching an amp meter to the service and measuring the output as the homeowner flips the breakers for various devices on and off. The usual culprits are old or inefficient appliances like hot water heaters, air conditioning units and heat pumps.

“At times people will call us instead of an electrician,” says AMI Technician Danny Daniels. “Sometimes we can help them deter- mine what’s wrong and give them ideas about what can be done about it. A lot of times they can pretty much fix the problem themselves.”

The ability to tackle so many varying jobs means AMI technicians must have a comprehensive understanding of SVEC’s electric system. For Roberts and Daniels, that knowledge has been developed through years of experience. But for newer technicians, like Trey Jackson, the cooperative offers a certification program to get them up to speed fast.

“Now we have the meter technician program that’s offered by a lineman college,” says Daniels. “All new people have to go through that.”

House Calls

Danny Daniels (right) issues a meter to Journeyman Lineman Philip King.

Without a doubt, the most difficult part of an AMI technician’s job is occasionally disconnecting service. “It’s not enjoyable to have to disconnect people when they haven’t paid their bill,” says Roberts. “It’s a necessary job, but it’s not something we like to do.”

Making a visit to disconnect power is always a last resort. By the time a technician shows up to turn off electric service, the member has already received several notifications. When there are delinquent payments, SVEC sends members both email and written notifications to let them know their cutoff date is approaching.

We don’t want [members] to have higher than necessary bills any more than they do. So, we’ll try the best we can to help identify the cause of the problem.”
— Bill Roberts, SVEC AMI Technician

SVEC will also call a member who is in danger of having service cut off. If a member doesn’t have a history of late payments, a technician will even leave a reminder note on their door.

If a member is home when a technician arrives to disconnect their service, the technician will often give them time to pay their bill.

“I try to give them an opportunity to call the office and work things out,” says Daniels.

Trey Jackson and the rest of the Metering Department work hard to make sure they have a comprehensive understanding of SVEC’s electric system.

To help members better manage their electricity use and costs, AMI technicians often suggest enrollment in MyChoice Prepay. Mychoice is a pay-as-you-go plan that allows the member to pay for the amount of electricity they want, when they want it.

Instead of receiving a monthly bill, the member is charged for usage daily. Payments can be made online 24 hours a day at svec- coop.com, at SVEC’s new drive-thru kiosk, by phone or using the SmartHub mobile app. Use of the SmartHub app also enables the member to monitor their daily usage and account balance, and receive notifications when their balance is running low.

Another advantage of Mychoice is that there are no disconnect or reconnect fees, because a device attached to the meter allows those actions to be performed remotely, without the need to send out a technician.

“The bottom line,” says Daniels, “is that we are here for the well-being of our members and want them to enjoy affordable uninterrupted service.”