Here’s when Seattle City Light plans to automate your electricity meter

First report from last night’s quarterly Morgan Community Association meeting is one of interest no matter what neighborhood you’re in: It’s the first community-council briefing we’ve seen in this area since Seattle City Light started switching over to automated meters. The map above shows which parts of West Seattle are scheduled for installation next year – according to the online schedule, the utility expects to have all installations citywide due by the end of 2018.

SCL’s Scott Thomsen spoke to MoCA last night, saying that the new meters will be uploading your power-use information to SCL six times a day. They’re replacing meters that are in some cases older than half a century. He described the attributes as including “first off, you’re going to get more accurate billing.” No more “estimated reads” when they can’t get a meter reading to your house, for whatever reason, leading to an inaccurate bill and maybe a big catch-up bill later. Then, “on a day like today with a storm coming in,” instead of reporting a power outage, “the meter will tell us that you are out,” and that will get crews on the road quicker to fix them. Also: “What we’re talking about is a change in our relationship with you, our customers, to put more power in your hands to control energy costs,” since you’ll also have access to details of how much you’re using.

Questions included whether the existing meter’s base will accommodate the new meter; Thomsen says yes, but if something goes wrong while they are installing it, or they need to fix something with the base, they will take the position that it’s their responsibility, though technically property owners are accountable for providing the base that holds the meter.

How will you know exactly when you’re due for installation? Thomsen says you’ll get three notifications before they come to install – a letter, a postcard, an automated phone call, starting weeks ahead of time. The installer will come knock on your door so that if you’re home working on something, you’ll have an opportunity to save it before the one-minute power outage that’ll be required for the switch over. You don’t have to be home for the installation. Other questions? Check out SCL’s page for the automated-meter project.

53 Replies to "Here's when Seattle City Light plans to automate your electricity meter"

  • Mark October 19, 2017 (1:17 pm)

    Just to nit pick, this isn’t actually Wi-Fi (802.11) since if it were there would need to be a WAP nearby or some sort of wireless mesh protocol involved. states that it’s some unspecified RF protocol:

    “Advanced Metering uses low-energy radio frequency waves to send customers’ energy-use information to City Light through a secure wireless network. Radio frequency is a form of electromagnetic energy that moves through the space around us. It is used with many everyday devices such as baby monitors, cell phones, and WiFi routers. Advanced meters result in much lower levels of radio frequency exposure than many common household electric devices. In fact, exposure levels are many times lower than with a cell phone held to the ear.”

    • Mark October 19, 2017 (1:32 pm)

      After watching the YouTube video and seeing the labels on one of the meters that says “gridstream RF” and “focus rxr-sd”, apparently it transmits on an unlicensed 900MHz block and/or 2.4GHz (using the ZigBee protocol, a smart home automation protocol).

    • WSB October 19, 2017 (1:34 pm)

      I appreciate the technical precision. Wi-fi has become something of a synonym for wireless, for better or for worse. But I will change any wi-fi reference to wireless for accuracy’s sake. Thank you. – TR

      ETA: Actually it worked fine to just take out the wi-fi reference entirety.

  • zark00 October 19, 2017 (3:00 pm)

    Well this really stinks.  Complaints about auto-meters range from disrupting wifi routers, over-billing by HUGE amounts, and failing regularly.

    There’s a site dedicated to stopping smart meter deployment based mostly, it seems like, on about 1/3 of customers getting a higher bill.

    There are many, many, articles about increasing bills, about meters over counting by 3x-6x – one guy got a bill for $48,000 because the meter randomly added zeros to the usage count.

    “Five out of nine smart meter models tested gave readings which were too high, the study found.”

    “Essentially what happens is that if you have a family that uses
    dishwashers two or three times daily, or cooks with electricity using an
    electric oven twice a day, and has gotten used to washing their clothes
    regularly, then your bills will soar…”

    Security is also a huge concern.  Zigbee is easily hackable, utilities use one APN for all their smart meters, so one key to rule them all in essence, and they can (possibly) be the backdoor to any other IoT devices you might own.  

    This is gonna be bad.

    • Peter October 19, 2017 (9:34 pm)


  • Jon Wright October 19, 2017 (3:18 pm)

    It sounds like the tinfoil hat crowd is already up in arms over this.

    I am looking forward to being able to monitor my home’s electricity usage in near-real time.

    • WSB October 19, 2017 (3:47 pm)

      “Tinfoil hat” is a little dismissive but yes, some recurring concerns have been voiced around the country. Anyone who doesn’t want this type of meter does have the opportunity to opt out … there’s a link on the program page’s left sidebar.

      • Finn October 19, 2017 (4:55 pm)

        Except people who live in apartments, or who’s landlord doesn’t agree to it, or who don’t want to be slapped with an extra fee on every bill

    • Finn October 19, 2017 (4:53 pm)

      I am also looking forward to monitoring your home’s electricity usage in real time.

      • Zark00 October 19, 2017 (6:30 pm)

        Nice Finn heh heh.

    • zark00 October 19, 2017 (5:04 pm)

      Tinfoil hat?  Because I don’t want my power bill to double?  At least I’m not ignorant and mean like you I guess. 

      Opting out costs you $125 one time and then like $15 a month on your bill – so they’ll get their extra money either way.

      • Jon Wright October 21, 2017 (6:59 am)

        I’m just not a conspiracy theorist. You found a couple links on the interwebs. I can find web sites that claim the earth is flat. The technology City Light is deploying replaces manual meter reading with the ability to do so remotely with automation, improving efficiency, accuracy, and capability all in the process. I remember when people were upset at the prospect of those newfangled UPC scanners at the grocery store, too.

      • Question Mark October 21, 2017 (10:56 am)

        Re: not wanting your bill to double, Seattle City light seems to do that from time to time already with its current metering process …

  • HappyChappy October 19, 2017 (4:04 pm)

    I welcome this.

    A few months back I noticed a Seattle City employee was reading my meter across my neighbor’s fence. Wanting an accurate reading I let them know they were more than welcome to come into my yard to take the reading.

    The Seattle City light employee, paused and looked down at their device ….. “Do you still have a black and white dog?” they asked. 

    Nope – never. I responded.

    Turns out that note was from 1995! I’m now presuming my meter has never been read within a distance shorter than 15 feet.

    RIP – Black and white dog from 1995.

    • Julia October 19, 2017 (7:05 pm)

      Interesting – we’ve been trying to get a note added about our dog. The meter reader made the change? We’ve tried to add through customer service, but our current meter reader unlatches our gate without checking to see if the dog is out. 

  • Jons35 October 19, 2017 (4:40 pm)

    I see it will only cost a one-time charge of $125 and then a recurring charge of $15 every bill for the rest of your life to opt-out.  

    What a deal!

  • dsa October 19, 2017 (7:46 pm)

    It is over a half a year before they start in WS, so hopefully they can work the bugs out by then.

  • KBear October 19, 2017 (8:04 pm)

    Well, if you don’t want City Light spying on you wirelessly, and you don’t want meter readers trampling on your property, perhaps you should invest in solar. 

  • steve October 19, 2017 (8:58 pm)

    I like my old meter. We have a special bond.  Sometimes when I walk by, I see his little wheels spinning and I say “hi little meter, I see you’re working hard today” Then I’ll  dust her off to make sure she’s easy for the meter reader.  She responds with a little arc from the telephone pole.  So cute! I’m on a fixed income. I can’t afford to pay the opt out fees. I’m very sad.

  • AMD October 19, 2017 (9:54 pm)

    I didn’t care one way or another until recently, but friends in Houston were saying how nice it was that the power company could remotely tell whose power went out to more quickly restore it when there was no feasible way to call in outages after Harvey.

    I mean, I know disasters that will make it hard for all of us to call in power outages don’t happen all the time, but it sounds like a great benefit of the system nevertheless.  They have problems reading the meters already without the automation; not super sure how it could be a trade down.  They still won’t bill you for the extra if you call them with an accurate meter read.  I guess time will tell.

  • Jamjets October 19, 2017 (10:07 pm)

    Watch “take back your power” on amazon prime and make your choice to  opt out ( or in ). No tinfoil needed, it’s a waste of money and resources.

    • brian October 20, 2017 (5:28 pm)

      Free on amazon prime video.

      I can’t believe as progressive and environmentally aware  W.Seattle is there is not much push back on these dangerous devices.

      • Patricia October 21, 2017 (9:17 am)

        That’s the movie my neighbor made me watch. It’s a bunch of self-appointed “experts” talking about concepts they don’t understand and ex-politicians who are looking to get back in the mix. Some guy from Vancouver BC (which has had smart meters for at least ten years) made it. 

        As I said in another comment on this thread, we’ve had smart gas meters in Seattle for at least fifteen years. PSE has had  smart electric  meters for probably twenty or so years, same wireless mesh network that City Light is using. McKinstry put smart meters in all the UW Main Campus buildings five years ago, and we’re all still here. 

        If you don’t want one, opt-out. But you’ll still have that gas meter. You can’t opt-out of that. 

  • cjboffoli October 19, 2017 (10:40 pm)

    Surprising that these new meters will use a form of wireless as City Light already owns an exclusive network of wired copper to every customer.

    • Chemist October 21, 2017 (11:10 am)

      The overhead wires are usually aluminum.

  • WGA October 19, 2017 (11:01 pm)

    Can’t stand maps where it is difficult to see the different colors. In this case north and south Seattle.  Confused about the timing for 98116. Its either fall 2017 or summer 2018.

    • WSB October 19, 2017 (11:02 pm)

      I had some trouble with that as well, but comparing the paper version made available at last night’s meeting with the online version, it’s clear that the West Seattle zones are all in 2018.

  • David October 20, 2017 (4:42 am)

    I suspect that this is going to lead to different rates for power throughout the day. When everyone is drawing a lot of power we will pay a peak rate. I hope that I am wrong.

  • justme October 20, 2017 (6:56 am)

    Myself and a few of my neighbors recently got a 16.00 bill from Seattle City Light. Obviously this is in error. I even called Seattle City Light and they had no idea why, but also confirmed that this low of a bill shows close to no usage/very little. Those of us who got that low bill will surely get a huge one next month. I hope this new system will at least be more accurate.

    • WSB October 20, 2017 (7:29 am)

      That was exactly the kind of scenario that Scott Thomsen from SCL described to MoCA as happening to some as a result of the current system, which this is supposed to eliminate…

  • cheeseWS777 October 20, 2017 (7:52 am)

    How much are these new meters costing the city to go install a whole bunch. Is our taxes going to go up so they can bill us more accurately?

    • Patricia October 20, 2017 (11:34 am)

      Your taxes have nothing to do with it. SPU and City Light are not only self-supporting, they add to the general fund. This is being funded by rates. 

  • Rico October 20, 2017 (8:25 am)

    They installed one at a small business I am involved with and sure enough the bill immediately went up 85%.  Several months later I am still in the midst of an appeal on the bill and each month it stills show 85% more than ever has.

    • Patricia October 20, 2017 (11:38 am)

      Meter accuracy is set by the American National Standards Institute. Every meter in the US has to be within .5% of 100% accuracy. You probably have a billing problem. Just send a FB message to City Light. Their call center is impossible to deal with. 

  • KM October 20, 2017 (8:53 am)

    Is there a reason Seattle City Light doesn’t charge peak time of day rates? I think their rate changes are only seasonal, winter and summer.

    • Patricia October 20, 2017 (11:35 am)

      It’s up to the Seattle City Council. You can get involved in the rate setting process if you like. I did it awhile back and it was both interesting and not very time-consuming. 

      • KM October 20, 2017 (12:03 pm)

        Interesting, thanks! 

  • nachobeaver October 20, 2017 (9:36 am)

    Seattle city light will now have the abillity to contol your house!! They will throttle you back and or slow down your power eventually!! Just like cell phone companys do when your using too much data..You use too much power your getting cut off just like the folks in california they have been dealing with rolling blackouts for years since they have gone automated!!

    • Patricia October 20, 2017 (11:36 am)

      That’s ridiculous. Why would the utility want to sell you less power? And what California are you referring to? I live in Palm Springs half the year, and have never experienced “rolling blackouts” 

    • Question Mark October 21, 2017 (11:07 am)

      The comment about controlling the power of each individual customer belies a deep misunderstanding about how the power grid is connected. Each of our homes, in essence, shares the same wire for power with our entire neighborhood. There’s no cutting off the power to just one home.

      Do these new meters also include a remote controlled switch? That would probably a good question for SCL to answer once and for all …

  • Meter Me! October 20, 2017 (11:21 am)

    I’m sad to see the amount of paranoia and fear mongering here. City spying on you, controlling your house, etc. Seriously?? It’s just electric meters, people. The city is right to switch to accurate metering using modern technology instead of relying on estimates. If your rates our jumping up (I’m skeptical, antis have a way of making stuff up), it’s probably because your usage was way underestimated in the first place and you were being undercharges. I have no idea what my actual usage is because the only time my meters been read is when I first set up the account, and I had to do it. It shouldn’t be that way.

  • Rusty October 20, 2017 (11:59 am)

    Never worry, I actually agree with Zark on this one, so there’s that….

    And for all those trusting souls, just keep this in mind – ‘All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’ (goes along well with ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you’).

  • Patricia October 20, 2017 (12:36 pm)

    PSE has had these sorts of electric meters for decades, and they’ve had them on the gas meters for the last fifteen years or so – including our gas meters here in Seattle. Woodinville has them on their water meters, so they have everything smart meter. We’ve been exposed to this technology for a long time around these parts. 

  • nachobeaver October 20, 2017 (12:51 pm)

    Well first of all its not paranoia!! Its the truth are infrastructure is outdated and failing and with the uptick of people moving into seattle weekly.. Its only bound to happen here california is seattles roll model lately..  Its just one more way for the goverment  to control  your life and leave you stranded with out power and for those who dont think they have rolling blackouts google it its notorious in summer when people hog energy with there ac units ..

    • Patricia October 20, 2017 (1:29 pm)

      A rolling blackout is when they curtail power to certain areas on a scheduled basis because of demand exceeds supply (otherwise, there would be brownouts). Utilities don’t like to do it because it cuts into revenue and dings their reliability scores. Because of that, it’s *extremely* rare (as I said above, I live in SCE’s territory half the year and have never been in one)  – and it has absolutely nothing to do with metering: You just shut down feeder lines at the substations in an orderly manner, and bring them back on when you have sufficient generation.  City Light is hydro – failing some sort of catastrophe between here and Skagit or here and BPA, there’d be no reason to do that. 

      City Light’s infrastructure is pretty solid. They distribute at a much higher voltage than most utilities in the country. Plenty of room for growth  in that area. It’s the water and sewer lines that probably need the upgrades. 

      There’s plenty of things to be worried and outraged about in this world. Your electric meter is not one of them. 

    • Seriously dude? October 20, 2017 (7:52 pm)

      “It’s just one more way for the government to control your life and leave you stranded with out (sic) power…”

      So, totally not paranoid then. 

  • nachobeaver October 20, 2017 (4:14 pm)

    its sorta funny you have never heard of them but now you know everything about them?? all im gonna say is go live in LA for a few years.. Its actually gotten alot better since the 90s but they still do have them ocasionally!! and no the low desert dosnt get them thats why you have never had one in palm springs..hell all the old people would croke if there was no power hooked up to there oxygen machines

    • Patricia October 20, 2017 (6:36 pm)

      I never said that I had never heard of a rolling blackout. I said I had never experienced one. And my point was that they have nothing to do with meters, so I don’t know why they are coming up in this conversation. 

      I find much of the controversy around this topic mystifying. There’s a “documentary” that a neighbor made me watch about the supposed threat of these meters. It had nice production values, but was absolutely laughable when it came to credentials, engineering, science, etc. 

    • Uh oooookaaaay October 20, 2017 (7:43 pm)

      So your argument is that something that happened in California in the 90s that had nothing to do with electric meters somehow invalidates Seattle using modern technology. Gotchya. 

  • brian October 20, 2017 (6:24 pm)

    I’m happy with my existing meter. 

    Getting a new meter should be an Opt-in contract, not opt-out plus a fee.

    The old meters are safe. 

    These new meters are radiation surveillance devices.

    • Jon Wright October 21, 2017 (7:07 am)

      No, not having an automated meter drives additional costs to the utility because a meter reader has to come out to your property. If people want to be Luddites that is their choice, but it seems perfectly reasonable that they should bear the financial consequence of their choice and not be able to fob off that expense on the rest of us.

  • WSB October 21, 2017 (7:49 am)

    I should note that anyone with questions about the new meters can consider being at this week’s Highland Park Action Committee meeting (Wednesday, 10/25, 7 pm, Highland Park Improvement Club, 1116 SW Holden), which has a City Light guest on the agenda.

  • Jort October 24, 2017 (1:16 pm)

    Wow. I know I’m late to the game on this, but, just — wow.

    These comments from my neighbors are really, truly illuminating.

Sorry, comment time is over.