DECATUR – AmerenIP customers can expect interruptions in electrical service of a minute or two while new automated meter readers are installed on their existing meters.
Natalie Hemmer, spokeswoman for the Decatur-based utility, said the work to install the automated readers on some 186,000 electric and gas meters began a couple of weeks ago in the Champaign service area and is expected to be complete in early 2007.
"Right now, we're working north of Interstate 74 between Cunningham Avenue and Neil Street. They're working on the apartments north of Market Place Mall," she said Wednesday.
The automatic devices also will be installed in the Danville area, according to the company, but that work is not scheduled to start till later this year.
When a circuit is completed, the installers move on to the next circuit, which is not necessarily defined by streets.
"We started with areas where we have a high concentration of meters," Hemmer said.
The process of exchanging an electric meter for one that has the automated reading feature takes about 15 to 20 minutes but interrupts electrical service for only a couple of minutes, Hemmer said. There is no interruption in gas service as the automated reader is merely added on to those.
"People would notice clocks blinking," she said of the outage. She added it would be a good idea to shut down computers according to the manufacturer's instructions to avoid any loss of data.
Customers are being sent letters two to four weeks in advance of the meter exchange and the installers are knocking on doors before they do the work to let customers know they're there. For customers who aren't home, the installer will leave a door hanger saying the work has been completed. At larger apartment complexes, posters explaining the work are being put up in common areas as opposed to door hangers.
How long the work takes depends what the installers find.
"What really helps is to make sure there is nothing really blocking the meter," she said, adding that by the end of June the company hopes to have as many as 25 installers who sweep an area before moving on to the next circuit.
The automated reading device transmits a low power signal to a concentrator, which then transmits the information, via a phone line, to a data center and then to Ameren's billing center, eliminating the need for a human to read the meter, unless there is a problem with it.
"We wouldn't need to be there on a monthly basis, and it virtually eliminates estimated readings altogether," Hemmer said.
The reader also lets the company know when power is out, although customers will still need to call to report outages.
Once the automated readers are installed, meter readers will do one last in-person check to make sure they are working correctly.
Hemmer said the Champaign service area consists of Champaign, Urbana, Mahomet, Monticello and some smaller towns as well.
For more information about the program, go to Ameren's Web site: http://www.ameren.com/Residential/ADC_AMR.asp.