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UPPCO seeks extension of bimonthly meter reading

MARQUETTE — Some Upper Peninsula Power Co. customers could receive estimated bills until September.

The company has applied with the Michigan Public Service Commission for a six-month extension of a waiver allows UPPCO to read the “majority” of the company’s residential meters on a bimonthly basis while it launches its Smart Meter program, according to an Oct. 4 filing.

“In furtherance of this request for an extension of the waiver, UPPCO represents that the company is committed to providing excellent customer service and does not believe that the extension of the waiver will harm the company’s customers,” the filing states. “UPPCO committed to implement an AMI solution which will benefit customers through … eliminating the need for bimonthly estimated meter readings, … helping modernize the power grid which will improve system reliability by providing the means for determining when and where unplanned outages occur, allowing for quicker restoration times, … and lowering rates over the longer term through corresponding operational cost savings.”

UPPCO Vice President of Business Development and Communications Brett French said in an email Tuesday that the waiver would allow for a “seamless” transition to the new advanced metering infrastructure.

“We are currently installing our new Smart Energy Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) equipment to reduce the bimonthly meter reading and estimated bills,” French said. “We are targeting the mid-2020 time frame for completion of the project. The current waiver granted by the Michigan Public Service Commission in U-20271 is due to expire on March 31, 2020. UPPCO’s request for an extension would take the waiver to September 30, 2020.”

The MPSC, which is the state body that regulates UPPCO and other privately-owned utilities, requires energy companies to provide customers with “actual monthly meter reads,” and has issued multiple waivers of the meter reading requirement to UPPCO over the last decade.

The practice of reading the meter bimonthly and estimating bills on those months that the meter had not been read came under fire when the company sought a two-year extension of its MPSC waiver in 2017.

The MPSC responded by issuing a one-year extension and requiring UPPCO to undergo a 90-day assessment of its estimated billing practices, which was completed in January 2018. As a result of the inquiry, the company took steps to rectify issues with estimated billing.

A request for a second extension allowed bimonthly meter reads to continue until March 2020.

In the current filing, UPPCO asserts that its billing procedures are “reasonable, prudent, and consistent with industry norms.”

According to its filing, utility officials stated that under its current meter reading system, “UPPCO has billing employees who physically review all accounts that fail billing parameters and an actual reading is requested if the review cannot be done from the office or with the customer on the phone,” the filing states. “Also, UPPCO encourages customer self-readings and provides meter reading cards when requested and has enhanced the online portal to allow customers to post a reading and promotes budget billing to eliminate monthly billing swings.”

According to UPPCO’s filing, the company plans to complete the implementation of its advanced metering infrastructure in June 2020.

Customers who wish to opt out of smart meters in favor of a standard meter are subject to a one-time charge of $62.25, and a $14 monthly charge.

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