Q&A - Residential Metering
What are “ERT” meters?
ERT (or Encoder Receiver Transmitter) meters are digital meters that utilize a low-power radio signal to communicate with hand-held receivers used by meter readers. Electro-mechanical (analog) meters have been discontinued by manufacturers, and Central Hudson is installing digital meters with ERT communications capability to improve meter reading efficiency, safety and accuracy. Central Hudson began installing ERT meters in the late 1990s.
How do ERT meters work?
The ERT meters used by Central Hudson use radio signals to communicate securely with a hand-held device carried by meter readers. ERT meters are not controlled by nor connected to computer systems, do not store or record usage information on household appliances nor do they provide two-way communications. They can only be read by physically approaching the meter.
Are ERT meters smart meters?
There are differences between smart meters and ERT meters. While both use low power radio signals, smart meters are much more sophisticated and provide two-way communication between the customer and the utility; with smart meters, customers can actually observe their energy use in real time, and the meters communicate using a multi-tiered network.
How are meters regulated?
The New York State Public Service Commission approves all meters used by New York utilities, including Central Hudson (under public service law has adopted American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”) code as the safety standards for approved meters (under public service law 16 NYCRR 93.3). The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates radio frequency emissions nationally, has also adopted ANSI radio frequency standards. Utilities, including Central Hudson, follow state and national standards for installed meters. Each time the Commission approves a new type of meter, a notice is published pursuant to the State Administrative Procedures Act (“SAPA”), and all New York citizens and governmental entities have an opportunity to participate in the proceeding.
Are analog meters still manufactured?
Central Hudson, like all energy companies, is gradually switching from analog meters (which are no longer manufactured) to digital meters. The digital meters are approved by the Commission and run on the same electric current as did the analog meters. Central Hudson is required to test approximately 3.5 percent of its residential meters per year, and in doing so replaces older analog meters with digital ERT meters. ERT meters are also installed in new construction or to replace meters which may be damaged.
Do digital meters comply with safety standards?
Studies performed by other parties have shown these that meters typically emit much lower than 1 percent of FCC and ANSI standards*, and in many cases meet or exceed the more stringent and conservative BioInitiative Report recommendation. FCC safety standards for radio signals require a Maximum Permissible Exposure (“MPE”) equal to or less than 0.61mW/cm2 (0.61 milliwatts per square centimeter) for signals in the 900 MHz range; while the BioInitiative Report recommendation, which falls below all international standards, is 0.0001 mW/cm2. Signals taken by a local resident from ERT meters installed by Central Hudson peaked at 0.00012 mW/cm2, and when adjusted for the 30 minute time weighted average falls in the range of 0.0000002 mW/cm2.
- * Standards are based upon testing performed at a distance of three feet, directly in front of meters for a 30 minute period, as this represents a “worst-case” scenario. Signal strength falls off sharply with distance and by natural and man-made barriers (e.g. meter sockets and buildings).
How do fields produced by digital meters compare with analog meters?
Analog meters use electromagnets and a rotating disk to measure energy use, which emit electro-magnetic fields (EMF) that vary in strength with electric usage in the home and distance from the meter. These fields drop off quickly with distance, for example can be negligible at 3 feet away. Digital meters utilize solid-state electronics rather than electromagnets to measure electric use. Electromagnetic fields surrounding digital and analog meters are virtually identical.
Testing performed by Central Hudson on the digital opt-out meter and mechanical/analog meters found that readings were nearly identical in all cases, except for slightly higher EMF levels by the analog meter with a 30 amp load at 1 foot away.
A study by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District found that EMF levels for the analog meters are higher than those of digital meters at very close distances, and virtually the same when standing beyond 3 feet away. Energy use by the home or business also influences the relative differences in EMF levels, particularly at close distances. When taking measurements right at the meter or 1 foot away, EMF levels for analog meters showed to be about 2 times higher than digital meters at higher levels of energy use, and up to 10 times higher (or more) than that of the digital meters at lower levels of energy use. However, EMF readings were approximately the same beyond three feet. More information is available here (scroll to the Are the Alternative Meters Safe dropdown).
Generally, EMFs are present around all electrically operated devices and appliances, and where electric current is present, and falls off rapidly with distance. They are also naturally occurring. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that there is no clear scientific evidence that EMFs affect health.
Digital ERT meters also emit very low radio signals, well below federal limits and many household appliances.
How do the radio signals on ERT meters compare with other devices?
The ERT meters typically operate between 900 and 925 Hz, similar to that of many cordless telephones, and transmit at regular intervals, from every two seconds to every 30 seconds. The transmission duration is extremely brief, on some models less than six one thousandths of a second, so the radio signals are emitted less than 0.3 percent of the time. The radio signals are also very weak, typically less than 0.1 percent of the limit set by the Federal Communications Commission at 3 feet away and below more stringent limits set by the BioInitiative Report recommendation; and signals fall off quickly at further distances. Indoor radio signals produced by meters are typically 10 percent or less of those present outdoors, as the meter socket and building materials act as natural barriers. Common household electronics, cordless phones, Wi-Fi and other devices generally produce higher levels indoors than do the meters:
Radio signals as a percent of FCC limits:
- Walkie-Talkies (at head): 80 to 6,000 percent
- Cell phones (at head): typically 33 percent when in use
- Cordless phones (at head): 20 percent when in use
- Wi-Fi wireless routers (2 to 5 meters from access points): 2 to 3 percent
- Laptop computers (1 meter): 2 to 3 percent
- Microwave oven from one meter: 2 percent
- ERT meters (outdoors from 3 feet): 0.003 percent (based upon a local reading)
According to EEI (the Edison Electric Institute), a comparison of a person talking on a cell phone and a person 3 and 10 feet from a continuously transmitting meter will result in exposure 125 to 1,250 times less than that of the cell phone; actually, ERT meters emit signals less than 0.3 percent of the time, and building structures provide additional interference. According to the environmental consulting firm Gradient, exposure from one year of cell phone use for 15 minutes per day would equal or exceed 375 years of that from a meter.
Who authorizes use of these meters?
The New York State Public Service Commission approves all meters in use by utilities, and has approved the ERT meters used by Central Hudson and other utilities. New York State has among the most stringent requirements on all electric and natural gas meters.
Why is Central Hudson using digital ERT meters?
This safe and effective technology is providing customer benefits. Nearly one-half of all Central Hudson meters are ERT units; and with their use and other improvements, the average number of meters read per day has increased by 40 percent in the last 10 years, resulting in a decline in the number of estimated bills (due to unread meters) by more than 20 percent and a reduction in operating expenses that benefits utility bills.
Can ERT meters be converted to full Smart Meter capacity?
No, these meters cannot be utilized as smart meters. ERT meters are actually standard digital meters with a low power radio transmitter that improves the efficiency and accuracy of meter reading. They do not have the capability to store information about how or when electricity was used, or to transmit readings to a central office; rather, the system requires meter readers to physically approach the meters to take an index reading.
In order to determine energy usage, Central Hudson compares the current index reading to the previous index reading on file, as is done with analog meters.
What is “Dirty Electricity,” and is this caused by digital meters?
“Dirty Electricity” is a term for high frequency voltage transients, which is not known to be harmful, and is often produced by home electronics, fluorescent lighting, dimmer switches, televisions, computer monitors, and other home electronics. Meter manufacturers have indicated that digital meters do not cause high frequency voltage transients. In addition, Central Hudson performed tests using an oscilloscope, which showed the same results between analog/mechanical and non-transmitting digital meters utilizing switch transformers.
State regulators approve use of ERT meters: The New York State Public Service Commission concludes that numerous scientific and medical studies have determined that there are no proven health threats from ERT meters, and recommends several third-party reports that may help to provide a further understanding of meters and radio signals. Although the reports focus on smart meters, Central Hudson uses ERT technology, which provides only one-way communication and uses generally weaker signals than smart meters:
- Utilities Telecom Council’s “No Health Threat From Smart Meters”;
- Federal Communications Commission Office of Engineering & Technology’s “Bulletin 56 – Questions and Answers about Biological Effects and Potential Hazards of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields”; and,
- Electric Power Research Institute’s “A Perspective on Radio-Frequency Exposure Associated With Residential Automatic Meter Reading Technology.”Ongoing research continues to be conducted by many health organizations.
Other common sources of radio signals: There are many sources of radio signals in the home including radios, televisions, cordless phones, cell phones, tablets, Wi-Fi, and other modern devices.
Safer for our meter readers, less-intrusive for our customers: Reading ERT meters is safer than reading conventional meters, as there is less need to enter homes and yards, and readings are often taken from driveways or front walks.
More efficient: Remote meter reading reduces costs by allowing one meter reader to collect data from more meters than is possible for other meters.
Meter tampering can cause serious injury or death: It is very dangerous and illegal for customers to remove Central Hudson’s meter and replace it with another meter of their choice. Improper changing of a meter can result in serious injury or death and should only be attempted by authorized utility personnel. Metering tampering is also punishable by law.
Never place barriers that prevent removal of meters: Central Hudson requires access to meters at all times in order to take readings and for safety reasons, for example during emergencies. Meters are also the property of the utility. Never place barriers or take steps that prevent utility employees from accessing or removing meters.
Opt-out program; change of meter location: Customers may opt out of having an ERT meter installed, or hire an electrician to move and attach the meter pan at a location away from their house if desired at their expense.