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Frequently Asked Questions

UniSource Energy Services is installing meters at homes and businesses that can be read remotely through low-energy wireless communications equipment. The following questions and answers offer more information about this technology.

What kinds of meters are being installed?

UES has installed Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) meters manufactured by Itron for some electric customers. Although AMR meters lack many features associated with more advanced "smart meters," they can transmit usage data through a wireless radio frequency (RF) signal. These signals are received through fixed network equipment or remote collectors carried by UES' meter readers.

How many AMR meters has UES installed?

Through July 2011, UES had installed about 38,000 AMR electric meters. Electromechanical meters still make up a majority of the company's 95,000 electric meters, but we are replacing about 6,000 of those older meters annually with new AMR electric meters. Meanwhile, fewer than 150 AMR meters have been installed for gas customers. UES does plan to add more AMR meters to its natural gas system in the future.

Why is UES installing AMR meters?

AMR meters offer an accurate, affordable way to measure energy usage. While our traditional electromechanical meters must be inspected visually each month, usage data from AMR meters can be forwarded to us automatically through a fixed network or gathered quickly and easily by UES meter readers driving nearby in vehicles equipped with a remote collector. Our AMR meters are an affordable replacement for electromechanical meters at the end of their useful lives.

New electromechanical meters are no longer available, and UES's AMR meters cost about the same as comparable digital meters without wireless communications capability. That, combined with lower meter reading costs, helps make AMR meters a good investment for UES and our customers. AMR meters also make it easy to gather usage data more frequently than once a month. Aggregated hourly readings from AMR meters can be used to track energy use levels in certain areas, helping utilities plan for system improvements. AMR meters also could give customers an opportunity to view their usage data on a daily or even hourly basis, although UES has no such plans at present.

Are UES' AMR meters considered "smart meters"?

UES and others in the utility industry would not describe AMR meters as smart meters. So-called smart meters typically feature two-way communications and can be equipped to relay data to and from air conditioners, refrigerators and other specially equipped devices within a customer's home or business. UES's AMR meters, by contrast, add just one feature to traditional meters: the ability to communicate readings wirelessly.

How do AMR meters work?

Like a traditional electromechanical meter, AMR meters measure the amount of energy flowing through the main service line that links customers to UES' local distribution system. The meters periodically communicate these readings through a low-energy wireless signal. In some parts of town, these signals are picked up by fixed network collectors installed on UES facilities. In other areas, the signals are gathered through remote collectors carried by UES' meter readers. In either case, the readings are forwarded to UES' computer systems and used to bill customers.

Is my meter reading data secure?

Yes. The AMR meter provides one-way communication of the same data as a traditional meter, and is not linked with devices within the home, such as appliances. The energy usage information transmitted wirelessly from your meter to TEP’s collection devices employ technology standards that comply with the data privacy guidelines and regulations set by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

How frequently do AMR meters communicate readings?

Our AMR meters send out readings approximately every 30 seconds. Because these communications last only a few milliseconds, the meters are typically communicating for less than two and a half minutes in a 24-hour period.

Is there any reason to be concerned about exposure to RF signals from AMR meters?

The brief wireless signals from UES' AMR meters have a much lower power density than emissions from Wi-Fi, cellular phones or other common RF sources. The meters operate at energy levels that are less than 1/100 of 1 percent of the RF exposure limit specified by the Federal Communications Commission. While some researchers have investigated the possible health effects of cell phone signals, mobile phone users are exposed to RF emissions at energy levels that are 10,000 to 550,000 times higher than those associated with AMR meters. The brief RF signals from AMR meters, by contrast, have an energy density more comparable to the broadcast TV and FM radio signals that are present around the clock throughout populated areas.

How can I tell if an AMR meter is installed at my home or business?

UES' AMR electric meters have a digital display instead of spinning dials. If your electric meter bears an "Itron" brand and has a digital display, it is an AMR meter. Our AMR gas meters, meanwhile, incorporate a small box on the surface in addition to the spinning dials.

Does UES seek customers' permission before installing AMR meters?

No. Meters are part of UES' distribution system and are replaced as needed at the company's discretion, under the oversight of the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Can I request that an AMR meter not be installed at my home or business?

UES is currently accepting such requests, but we have not yet determined how those requests will be addressed. Such requests must be submitted in writing. To do so, mail your request to Customer Service Manager (SC122), PO Box 711, Tucson, AZ 85702. At this time, UES is not honoring requests to remove AMRs that already have been installed.