CHICAGO — The days of the meter reader are numbered in most of Illinois with the advent of new digital “smart” meters — wireless devices that relay information on electricity consumption directly to utilities.
Commonwealth Edison last week began installing meters to officially kick off a hard-won program by it and Ameren Illinois to upgrade the state’s power grid with advanced technology they say will improve their delivery systems. Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed legislation to allow automatic rate increases to pay for the improvements, saying it weakened state oversight. But the Legislature overrode that veto earlier this year.
ComEd will switch all 4 million of its northern Illinois customers to the new-fangled devices by 2021. Ameren Illinois will begin doing the same downstate next year.
Here’s what you need to know:
Q: Why do we need new meters?
A: It’s a big component of a $3.2 billion plan to modernize and “storm-harden” Illinois’ power grid over the next 10 years, which the utilities say will make it more efficient and reliable. Besides sending information directly to the utility via radio signals — no more meter readers — smart meters will record usage more accurately because it’ll no longer be estimated. When meters are fully functional, they can automatically alert utilities to an outage.
The utilities also are replacing aging cables and poles and installing devices that can automate distribution to help reroute power around trouble areas and reduce the number of outages.
Q: When will I get a smart meter?
A: About 130,000 ComEd customers in Chicago’s near-west suburbs already got them in a pilot program last year, and the company plans to install 60,000 by the end of the year. Installation is starting in the center of the network and cascading out, until all 4 million customers in its service area have them by 2021, spokesman John Schoen says.