Drive-by readings speed up services

Vectren is automating meter reading in Bartholomew County. New technology will allow meter readers to drive past homes in specially equipped vehicles to record natural gas usage — without getting out of the vehicle.

During the next 18 months, the company will install automated meter reading devices throughout its southeast and central Indiana service territory, including Columbus, Clifford, Edinburgh, Hope and Taylorsville.

Installation in the Columbus and Seymour areas is scheduled to begin this month. Customers in Greensburg will be upgraded in November. Those in Franklin and Shelbyville should see the upgrade in February.

The new system allows Vectren to efficiently obtain actual readings by driving routes, rather than walking them, which will increase the number of reads per day and eliminate issues caused by weather, meter reader turnover, animals and locked gates, which prevent employees from obtaining actual usage readings.

Increasing efficiency

Meter readers who walk on average read 500 meters a day, said Natalie Hedde, Vectren’s director of corporate communications. The new technology and using the vehicle will allow the company to have someone collect 10,000 readings a day, she said.The new system is the first change being implemented since about 450 Vectren customers in the Columbus area were caught off guard when they received lower utility bills through last winter and then received large “catch-up” payment bills in the spring.A contracted meter reader who reported incorrect low readings on customers bills for up to three months caused the problem, Hedde said in an earlier interview.

During those winter months, the contracted employee skipped reading some meters to shorten his workday, Vectren North President Mike Roeder said in an earlier interview. However, the problem wasn’t immediately found because the contracted employee sometimes read meters as required and randomly skipped others, he said.

In some cases, up to five months passed before a customer received a bill that was based on an actual meter reading, Roeder said.

Customers in Columbus and some in surrounding counties were forced to scramble to pay the higher bills, some setting up extended-payment plans or seeking assistance for the higher-than-expected bills.

Whether all of those customers have caught up on last winter’s Vectren bills depends on their circumstances and the repayment plan the customer agreed to with the company, Hedde said. The company’s goal was to have all customers caught up on their bills before the upcoming heating season, she said.

H

ow it worksThe new system has a transmitter that sends encrypted meter information via radio signal to data collection devices in the specially equipped vehicles. It is powered by a battery and operates on a low-power frequency that does not interfere with other electrical equipment, such as computers, radios, satellite television, home-security systems, mobile devices or pacemakers, the company said.The new technology will allow the company to track where the vehicle has traveled and if there are meters that still need to be read, Hedde said.

The company is emphasizing that the new technology is not a Smart Meter, which allows for two-way communication with the meter, Hedde said. The only communication that will be received is the meter reading, which is a one-way communication, she said.

Most meters will be quickly retrofitted to the new technology. The process takes about 10 minutes and doesn’t require help from the customer as long as the meter is outside the home, company officials said.

In some cases, the entire meter must be replaced, the company said.

If inside-home access or a completely new meter is required, customers will be contacted by a Vectren representative, Hedde said. There is no charge for customers to receive the upgrade. It’s a part of the company’s seven-year natural gas pipeline modernization filing to improve the company’s infrastructure and to improve customers’ experience in the service territory, Hedde said.

Customers may see a change in their monthly bill due date as the transition to the new system occurs, Hedde said. This could occur as the small walk-by meter routes transition to the larger mobile drive-by routes. Vectren will inform customers if the bill due date is changing, she said.

To learn more

Evansville-based Vectren Energy provides natural gas to about 585,000 customers in 47 Indiana counties.

To learn more about the company’s automated meter reading upgrade in Bartholomew County, visit vectren.com/AMR.

To contact a customer service representative, visit vectren.com.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.