FORT WAYNE – New technology could result in doing away with estimated bills for NIPSCO customers.
Automated meter-reading systems will allow workers to collect monthly usage totals from a NIPSCO vehicle, rather than walking door to door to manually read the meters.
The new system will offer advantages to company meter readers as well as to customers, said Kathleen Szot, NIPSCO spokeswoman.
Meter readers sometimes encounter dogs, inclement weather, tripping hazards, locked gates or must enter the homes to check meters, Szot said.
Any of those circumstances can result in customers being billed an estimated charge, which is based on past years usage, she said. Estimates are not always accurate, creating frustration for the customer, she said.
When customers disagree with an estimated bill, they are either instructed to call in their own reading and the bill is adjusted, or a technician will be assigned to do a site reading the next month, Szot said.
Currently, NIPSCO workers read more than 900,000 meters each month. A meter reader can collect about 300 meter readings every four hours, while a vehicle equipped with a digital receiver can collect 6,300 readings during the same time.
Its too early to tell, but the new system could result in a cost savings for customers, the utility said.
There is an initial investment to make the upgrade, but in the long run, we hope it will result in savings for both sides, Szot said.
The technology will not result in staff reductions, she said.
In northern Indiana, NIPSCO has about 200 meter readers; the new technology will reduce that number to about 20, she said.
The meter readers will stay with the company but will change positions and responsibilities, she said.
The data receivers collect only meter readings – personal account information is not collected.
Szot said it is important that customers realize the automated meter-reading devices differ from smart meters, which transmit information through a wireless communication network.
We will only be able to get a signal if the technician and vehicle are in close proximity to the meter, she said.
Technicians who will change the meters will carry photo identification, wear uniforms and drive marked vehicles. It will take about 20 minutes to complete the job, and customers will not be charged. Only an inside component of the meter will be changed, not the entire unit, Szot said.
NIPSCO and Metadigm, a metering services company, have partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 697 to complete the installations.
The work will begin in February and is expected to be completed in early 2016, Szot said.
NIPSCO serves about 790,000 natural gas customers and 470,000 electric customers in northern Indiana, Szot said.