Neil Jackson, lead meter technician with PSEG Long Island, installs...

Neil Jackson, lead meter technician with PSEG Long Island, installs a smart meter at a home in Melville, Sept. 8, 2017. Credit: Steve Pfost

PSEG Long Island is proposing to convert the entire LIPA service territory to new smart meters by 2022, a $291 million transformation that will give the utility and customers real-time data about usage and eliminate the need for estimated bills — along with more than 160 jobs.

In a filing with the state on Friday, PSEG proposed starting the conversion in earnest in early 2019, changing out 250,000 old meters a year to the two-way communication smart meters through 2022. PSEG said the move will effectively pay for itself over 20 years, and ultimately reduce rates by $12 million. The plan will cost around $275 per meter to convert.

Top PSEG officials said in interviews that the move is aimed at improving operations and customer satisfaction.

They said just more than 160 jobs, including eight management posts and 120 meter readers, will be eliminated. The workers in the meter-reading and installation division will be offered other positions and PSEG said it’s working with the utility workers union to create a “soft landing” for those who will lose unionized meter-reading jobs.

About 95 percent of the $473 million in anticipated 20-year savings from the meters will come from workforce reduction, said Rick Walden, PSEG’s vice president of customer services.

“If we didn’t believe this was good for customers and driving down bills, we wouldn’t be doing it,” said Daniel Eichhorn, who will take over as PSEG president and chief operating officer Oct. 2. He replaces Dave Daly, who is moving to the same post at PSE&G, the New Jersey utility.

The smart meters will use the 900 MHz wireless radio frequency to send customer usage data through a new communication network to the PSEG every 15 minutes. The system will provide the utility and customers with more up-to-the-minute data on electric use than has ever been available. Eventually, it will allow the utility to determine quickly if customers are experiencing an outage.

Estimated billing also will end — a significant change from the current practice of reading meters roughly every 60 days, with customers paying at least every other month based on an estimate. “We’ll be able to read every meter, every day,” Walden said.

The state Department of Public Service will review the plan and make formal recommendations after a 45-day public comment period. LIPA trustees will vote on it.

All 4,500 homes and businesses on Fire Island already have been converted to smart meters, and PSEG has spent the past year converting the largest commercial customers. About 40,000 accounts and 30 percent of the island’s electricity is metered through smart meters, said Walden. By early 2019, when full-scale conversion is expected to begin, about 100,000 customers will have smart meters, he said.

The conversion comes as PSEG proposes other new measures to help customers cut usage to reduce bills, including through a range of new rate options. In its state Utility 2.0 filing proposing future plans, PSEG lays out several new rate options, including one that will reduce bills by allowing customers to run appliances and other equipment during off-peak hours, when rates are lower.

Under the smart metering proposal, residential customers in rate classes 180, 580 and 880 will have the ability to opt-out when smart meters come to their neighborhoods, Walden said. Other utilities, including National Grid’s Long Island gas division, have state authority to charge customers who opt-out about $7 a month for meter reading. Walden said PSEG has no plan to charge, at least not during the four-year transition period.

Walden also said there is no danger to customers from the wireless signals from smart meters. However, more than 100 customers have already opted out.

“I don’t want to be sleeping next to a meter that’s constantly emitting radiation into my body just so that PSEG can make more money,” said James Hill of Ridge, who said he’s also worried about signals from neighbors’ devices. “The cancer rate is so high on Long Island I would gladly pay $7 not to be exposed to any additional radiation.”

The American Cancer Society on its website says radio frequency radiation from smart meters, “is much less than what you could be exposed to from a cellphone.” The society called it “very unlikely that living in a house with a smart meter increases risk of cancer.”

Still, the group said, “Because RF radiation is a possible carcinogen, and smart meters give off RF radiation, it is possible that smart meters could increase cancer risk. Still, it isn’t clear what risk, if any, there might be from living in a home with a smart meter.”

In pitching the smart metering plan, PSEG says more information about home-energy usage can help customers lower their bills. Customers with smart meters will have access to an online dashboard that will show usage data, and offer paths for savings, Walden said.

The program also will eliminate the need to drive company cars more than one million miles, saving 50,000 gallons of gas, PSEG said.

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