Meters are highly accurate instruments that are similar to an odometer on your car. One way to monitor your consumption is to read your meter and check it daily or weekly. If you read your meter at the same time each day, subtract the present reading from the previous day's reading to determine the number of kilowatt-hours used in one day. By reading your meter at the same time each day, you will get an exact total of the electricity you have used. By noting high consumption activities, such as air conditioning in the summer, you will know where you are spending your energy dollars. Reading your meter often, along with careful observation of the weather and appliances being used, can help you manage energy consumption and evaluate the effectiveness of appliances.
Your meter is read once a month by a Columbia Water & Light employee. Due to weekends, holidays or the length of the month, the total days between each meter reading may vary. It's possible for your monthly usage to increase or decrease from the previous billing period even though your average daily use remains the same. If there is a billing error, it will be handled in the normal procedure, with a credit adjustment on your next bill. E-mail a Customer Service Representative (UCS@gocolumbiamo.com) or call 573-874-7380. If there is a question about electric or water usage, the meter will be re-read. If you would like to lower your electric usage, request a free energy audit online or call 573-874-7325.
On occasion, events beyond the utility's control may force your home's electric usage for a month's billing cycle to be estimated. Locked gates, threatening dogs, covered or blocked meters and dangerous weather conditions can make it impossible for meter readers to reach your electric meter. Bills are estimated in mass when weather conditions cause a safety hazard for meter readers. As you build or landscape your home, think about how a Columbia Water & Light Meter Reader is going to access your meter. If you are fencing in your yard, is your meter inside or outside a locked gate? Does the landscaping next to your house allow room for someone to get to your meter to read it?
The biggest difference between a traditional meter and a smart meter is two-way communication. Smart meters can gather electric usage amounts in intervals of an hour or less. The meters can also be used to detect power outages. Utilities can communicate with the meter to turn it on or off rather than manually doing so at the location. These types of meters are called an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).
At this time, Columbia Water & Light electric meters are not smart meters. They do not have the ability for two-way data communication and they do not record data on an automatic interval. They cannot even report a customer’s loss of power. Columbia did install a residential automatic meter reading(AMR) system starting in 1996. These meters are still being used today. Once a month, a reading from the meter is taken from the street via a radio signal through a hand-held device.
According to Chapter 27-95 of the City’s Code of Ordinances, Columbia Water & Light supplies and installs customer meters. The City of Columbia’s current term and supply contract is for meters that have automatic meter reading capabilities.
A residential customer can request to have a mechanical analog meter installed but they are costly to read and maintain. Since mechanical meters are no longer domestically manufactured, there is a $75 fee to cover the costs of purchasing and refurbishing an old analog meter. A monthly fee of $5 will be charged to manually read the meter. A customer can switch back to a standard meter at any time and the $5 monthly charge will be discontinued. To request a non-standard mechanical meter, contact the City of Columbia billing office by calling 573-874-7380 or drop by their office at 701 E. Broadway. You will need to sign an agreement for this service.
Columbia Water & Light does not know what customers are doing with the electricity supplied; only the amount used. Employees transfer usage data once a month directly from the handheld reader device through the City of Columbia’s secured computer network to the billing system. Columbia Water & Light does not sell utility usage data. According to the Missouri Sunshine laws, usage data could be requested and a fee assessed in order to facilitate the request. In order for this situation to change, the State of Missouri would have to change the Sunshine Laws to exempt utility data.
Electromagnetic fields, radio waves, microwaves and wireless signals are collectively referred to as radio frequency (RF) energy. The transmission frequencies of Columbia’s meters are from 910 to 920 megahertz. This is the same frequency as many cordless phones, remote controls and garage door openers. The FCC allows for up to one watt to transmit the signal. The City’s current meters use 22.65 milliwatts to transmit meter readings to the hand held collection devices. RF signals weaken significantly as the distance between you and the device increases. According to the SmartGrid Consumer Collaborative, a person would have to be exposed to a meter for 375 years to get a dose equivalent to that of one year of 15 minutes-per-day cell phone use.
Both mechanical and the Automatic Meter Reading meters produce electromagnetic fields (EMF). There are no conclusive studies linking EMF to health problems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Despite more than two decades of research to determine whether elevated EMF exposure, principally to magnetic fields, is related to an increased risk of childhood leukemia, there is still no definitive answer. The general scientific consensus is that, thus far, the evidence available is weak and is not sufficient to establish a definitive cause-effect relationship.”
Columbia Water & Light takes the safety of our employees, customers, friends and families very seriously. Columbia’s meters meet all the utility safety standards including the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).The meters in use are not rated by Underwriters Laboratories because they rate consumer grade equipment.