Smart Meters in Florida Predict When Meter Enclosures Will Need Repair, Replacement

Implementing the technology began in late March in Miami-Dade County and North Florida. The final phase of the roll-out will begin later this year in Fort Myers, Naples and surrounding areas.

by Susan Salisbury, The Palm Beach Post, Fla. / April 12, 2016
Miami, Florida FlickrCC/lubright

(TNS) — Florida Power & Light Co.'s smart meters can now detect whether a customer-owned meter enclosure is about to need repairs or replacement, and customers will be notified when there is a problem.

Customers who do not repair or replace their enclosures within 45 days face having their power disconnected within five working days. During the 45 days, customers can also ask for an extension of time for repairs to be completed, which is no different from the way enclosure issues have been handled for years, said FPL spokesman Bill Orlove.

Meter enclosures or "cans" are owned by the customer. They house the FPL-owned meter. Meter repairs, which require a licensed electrician, can vary from as little as $100 to total replacement of up to $2,500. Local permitting authorities could also require customers to make additional upgrades to their electric system beyond the meter can to ensure it meets the jurisdiction's current electrical codes.

Juno Beach-based FPL, which developed the tool that analyzes smart meter transmissions in-house, believes the program is the first of its kind in the nation, Orlove said.

The initiative is expected to be in use in Palm Beach County by July, Orlove said. FPL began implementing the technology in late March in Miami-Dade County and North Florida. The final phase of the rollout will begin in the fourth quarter of this year in Fort Myers, Naples and surrounding areas.

"The way this predictive tool works, it sends us information. We then identify there may be some issue going on with the enclosure. Someone still needs to go out to do a physical inspection," Orlove said.

"We have the technology through the smart meters to provide this information to our customers. It is our obligation to do this to ensure the safety of our and their equipment," Orlove said.

Florida Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, who represents customers of regulated utilities, said that since 1987 when the Florida Public Service Commission ruled enclosures were the customer's property, customers have been responsible for repairs or replacement.

FPL and other utilities have been notifying customers for years that enclosures needed to be repaired or replaced, especially if there were safety concerns, Kelly said.

"Our concern would be if a meter enclosure was damaged by FPL personnel or contractors or FPL's equipment, meaning their meter," Kelly said.

During FPL's installation of 4.5 million General Electric smart meters from 2009 through 2013, a substantial number of meter enclosure problems were blamed on the change-out. Documents filed in a federal lawsuit brought against installer Honeywell in 2014 stated that at least 13,000 customers had to make costly repairs at their own expense. Honeywell also paid for the repair of 18,000 meter cans.

The lawsuit, which did not name FPL, was later dismissed.

The program will identify an estimated 1,800 to 2,200 defective meter enclosures a year, and 78 percent of those are expected to have some level of damage or deterioration requiring repair. In 2015 — prior to any electronic detection methods — FPL identified 5,466 damaged enclosures. This was through customers calling FPL about power quality issues or through normal field maintenance, Orlove said.

Once a suspect enclosure is identified, the customer will be notified that FPL will perform a visual inspection at no cost to the customer.

If during the inspection damage requiring repair is found, the customer will be placed into FPL's Damaged Meter Enclosure Process. The customer will be given 45 business days to complete the repairs and will be advised they are at risk for service disconnection if the work is not completed.

Problems with meter enclosures, including overheating, generally stem from poor condition of the meter enclosure components and connections, which can occur as a result of age, wear and tear and tampering, FPL said. Heat and rain can also damage connections and other components, causing them to corrode or loosen.

The initiative follows a pilot program in which FPL inspected 403 smart meters that were displaying a specific communications pattern. It found that 78 percent of those, or 314, were housed in meter enclosures that had some level of damage or degradation that required repair.

The 314 meter cans in the study were repaired by FPL at a cost of roughly $300,000.

In 1987 at FPL's request, state regulators allowed it to transfer ownership of meter boxes, to customers. The PSC found that "self-contained meter enclosures are not part of the utility function, but simply house the meter itself."

©2016 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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