Electric Services

CSU’s smart meters will be safe and secure

By David Coleman, College Station Interim Assistant City Manager

College Station Utilities customers have grown accustomed to workers entering their backyards to read the electric meter. No one looks forward to the monthly intrusion on their privacy, but the work is necessary to get an accurate measure of your electricity usage.

The situation is as uncomfortable for our readers as it is for our customers. You don’t like the invasion of your privacy; our readers don’t like encountering startled Rottweilers. If only a better, less intrusive way existed to check your monthly electricity usage.

Well, it does. And CSU and its electric customers will soon have access to it.

Last month, the College Station City Council directed CSU to move forward with implementing Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI), commonly called smart meters. The process will take about three years to complete. The change will apply only to electric meters, while water will continue to install AMI-ready meters for future implementation.

Smart meters record energy usage just like traditional meters but send and receive the data through wireless communications technology. That eliminates the need for us to enter your property on a regular basis. The new system will not reduce our workforce, either, since we’ll hire meter and system technicians to replace the readers.

Since 2010, AMI use has doubled with about half the nation’s electricity customer accounts now using smart meters. In 2016, Texas added the most residential smart meters of any state. Bryan Texas Utilities (BTU) successfully implemented its AMI system more than six years ago.

The council’s decision has raised some questions about the pros and cons of smart meters. Even though the city hasn’t yet requested proposals from potential contractors, we can still address many of the issues.

In addition to being less invasive, the meters will provide timely data that helps us generate more accurate utility bills by reducing human error. We’ll be able to better monitor system performance, control energy theft, provide greater reliability, and pinpoint and respond faster to outages. The system also will make it easier for you to identify ways to save energy and trim your monthly bill.

Since College Station is home to one of the nation’s largest universities, our electric utility handles an extraordinary number of service connects and disconnects. Because of the transient nature of much of our growing population, College Station Utilities processed about 70,000 connection and disconnection work orders last year.

During the peak move-in and move-out times in May and August, what should be a simple service can take several days. We’ll soon be able to handle those 70,000 annual connects and disconnects remotely, which will significantly improve our customer service capabilities and recover about 700,000 miles logged by our service trucks each year, providing substantial savings and environmental benefits.

Privacy and Security

Our top priority has always been providing reliable and safe electric service, which includes safeguarding your privacy and protecting your data. Since we must know how much electricity you use to bill you accurately, that’s all the smart meters measure — not how you use the electricity. Only consumption data is transmitted, nothing more. At the same time, the system’s firewall protects us against external hacking threats.

Moreover, privacy laws require us to protect consumer data. We can’t share that information without your permission, so rest assured it won’t end up in the hands of marketers.

Radiation

Our most likely communication system would use radio frequency, which produces no microwave radiation. Research shows that standing next to the AMI meter exposes you a fraction of the electromagnetic radiation produced by cell phones or baby monitors.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas recently concluded that “decades of scientific research have not provided any proven or unambiguous biological effects from exposure to low-level radio frequency signals. In reviewing all available material, (PUC) staff found no credible evidence to suggest that smart meters emit harmful amounts of Electromagnetic Field (EMF) radiation.”

Costs

For several years, the leadership of our electric utility has prudently set aside adequate funds in CSU’s budget for potential capital projects such as an AMI system. That means the new meters won’t cause an increase in electric rates. The up-front, one-time cost of implementing the AMI system is expected to be about $9.2 million, with annual operations and maintenance costs of about $660,000.

If the meters have a life of 11-12 years, we’ll likely break even on the costs and benefits of the new system. Any shortfall would simply be the cost of doing business and providing better service.

We encourage CSU electric customers to participate in the discussion when an AMI contract is presented to the city council early next year.

 


About the Blogger

David Coleman serves as College Station’s interim assistant city manager after 14 years as the director of water services at College Station Utilities. He also served 21 years as a civil engineer corps officer in the U.S. Navy. Coleman earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M in 1981 and a master’s in construction engineering from Stanford.


 

If you found value in this blog post, please share it with your social network and friends!

 

 


Electric linemen brave elements to keep your power on

By Patrick McIntyre, CSU Energy Coordinator

Since the invention of the Edison light bulb in 1879, electric linemen have been keeping the nation energized. More than 115,000 men and women install and maintain the nine million miles of electric grid that meet the nation’s power needs, including the 28 who serve at College Station Utilities.

That’s why the United States Congress and the City of College Station are recognizing Wednesday as National Lineman Appreciation Day (#ThankaLineman) as a way to honor the hard-working folks who protect public safety and energize our economy by keeping the power on.

Linemen are also a vital part of the first-responder community alongside police officers, firefighters, and paramedics. In most cases, other first responders can see their emergency issues, but electricity is invisible, which makes for an extremely hazardous environment during storms. While big events require all-hands-on-deck, most routine trouble calls are handled by two-person crews.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, being an electric lineman ranked among the 10 most dangerous jobs. Unlike most occupations, linemen spend a large part of their working lives well above the ground maintaining electrical infrastructure. Our linemen work with voltages as high as 138,000 volts down to the standard 120-volt power in your home.

College Station Utilities is also committed to the construction of reliable, underground utilities. Our electric grid is more than 56 percent underground, which requires our electric personnel to be knowledgeable in both overhead and underground systems.

Please join us in thanking the highly skilled and dedicated linemen who work all hours of the day, often in hazardous conditions, to keep your lights on.

 


About the Author

Patrick McIntyre is energy coordinator for College Station Utilities and is responsible for the energy conservation and key accounts programs. Pat joined CSU as a key accounts representative in 2009. He previously worked for 17 years in the manufacturing sector and eight years as a consultant with the Texas Engineering Extension Service. Pat graduated from Texas A&M in 1982 with B.S. in Industrial Distribution and has lived in the area since 1984.


 

If you found value in this blog post, please share it with your social network and friends!

 


New thermostat rebate could lower your energy costs

home-control

thermostatBy Patrick McIntyre, CSU Energy Coordinator

It’s not exactly a news flash that Texas gets terribly hot in the summer. That’s why air conditioning is among mankind’s greatest creations.

Unfortunately, it can also be expensive.

If you’re a typical College Station resident, about half of your annual energy bill can be attributed to air conditioning. The cost of running household appliances and electronics don’t even come close.

The thermostat that controls your HVAC system can be the key to lowering your costs.

The device itself doesn’t directly consume electricity, but significant savings can be realized by reducing the run time of your system. Thanks to technological advancements, you can save energy by remotely controlling your thermostat with your smartphone. That means you can reset your connected thermostat to pre-cool your home before returning from work, or you can adjust it while on vacation.

Starting in January, College Station Utilities’ will offer $30 rebates to residential customers who purchase an eligible thermostat through the Connected Thermostat Program. All you need to do is submit an application along with a purchase receipt. Once the application is approved, we’ll credit the rebate to your utility account.

Eligible thermostat brands are Nest, Honeywell, Radio Thermostat, Ecobee, Emerson, Carrier, Schneider Electric, Lux GEO, Lockstate, Trane, Hunter, and First Alert.

The Connected Thermostat Program complements our existing programs that can help lower your electric bill:

  • The Energy Back II Rebate Program provides rebates for residential customers replacing central air conditioning systems with higher efficiency models.
  • The Residential LED Lighting Program encourages the replacement of incandescent lighting with higher efficiency LEDs (light-emitting diode) lamps. CSU will credit residential customers’ accounts $2 per LED up to a maximum rebate of $20 per customer in any 12-month period.
  • CSU also provides free, personalized commercial and residential on-site energy surveys to help you identify energy conservation measures that can further reduce your utility costs.

Download Connected Thermostat Rebate Form

Take advantage of these cost-saving programs today! If you have any questions, email me at pmcintyre@cstx.gov.

 


0000072EPAbout the Author

Patrick McIntyre is energy coordinator for College Station Utilities and is responsible for the energy conservation and key accounts programs. Pat joined CSU as a key accounts representative in 2009. He previously worked for 17 years in the manufacturing sector and eight years as a consultant with the Texas Engineering Extension Service. Pat graduated from Texas A&M in 1982 with B.S. in Industrial Distribution and has lived in the area since 1984. 

 


 

If you found value in this blog post, please share it with your social network and friends!

 

Photo Credit: scyther5/123RF Stock Photo


Linemen brave the elements to keep your power on

Linemen4
By
Patrick McIntyre, CSU Energy Coordinator

Beginning in 1879 with the invention of the Edison light bulb, electric linemen have been keeping the nation energized.  The City of College Station and Congress are recognizing today as National Lineman Appreciation Day to honor the hard-working folks who protect the public safety by keeping your power on.

More than 115,000 linemen and women nationwide install and maintain nine million miles of electric grid to meet your power needs.  Electric linemen at College Station Utilities work with voltages as high as 138,000 down to standard household 120-volt power.

(more…)


Second transformer arrives at Northgate substation

 

By Patrick McIntyre, CSU Energy Coordinator  

CSU received a second transformer Thursday morning at the Northgate substation the city shares with Texas A&M. The new transformer doubles the substation’s capacity and will help us stay ahead of Northgate’s growth.

Since the substation is located in a high-density area, precautions had to be taken. College Station police escorted the truck and 70-foot trailer carrying the 150,000-lb. load through a route prescribed by the Texas Department of Transportation. University police isolated the area that led to the station entrance, where a 350-ton mobile crane carefully off-loaded the transformer.

(more…)


Public Power Week focuses on reliable electricity providers

By Patrick C. McIntyre, CSU Energy Coordinator

The City of College Station joins communities across the nation this week in recognizing the thousands of men and women who provide and maintain the electrical grid infrastructure and services known as public power.

The American Public Power Association coordinates Public Power Week, which is in its 29th year. Not-for-profit, community-owned electric providers serve about 47 million Americans in nearly 2,000 towns and cities.

With no divided loyalties, these utilities focus on providing reliable electricity while protecting the environment.

College Station Utilities is among 72 publicly owned utilities in Texas that serve more than 4.1 million customers with community-owned power. CSU is one of only two utilities in our state to be nationally recognized this year as a Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3). The designation is based on reliability, safety, workforce development and system improvement. (more…)