- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
In the short span of 11 months, Southern Maryland has been battered by Hurricane Irene and a derecho that led to two of the three largest outage events in the 75-year history of Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.
Those two weather events were responsible for more than 170,000 power outages, but the outage restoration following those two massive storms showcased the world-class dedication and skill of our linemen, contact center staff and others who worked so hard to get the lights back on for our customer-members.
Safe, efficient and timely outage restoration does not happen by accident. SMECO has invested millions in upgrading utility infrastructure and outfitting our crews and others with the latest technology to help them restore service as quickly and safely as possible. We have a seamless process where a customer-member reports an outage, it is grouped with other outages and crews are dispatched to the affected location.
Our linemen have laptops in their trucks to ensure they are getting real-time outage information and to allow our operations personnel to remotely track them on our system which improves efficiency and safety.
This technological evolution has occurred over the past 10 years at SMECO, but we are not done.
We applied last month to the Maryland Public Service Commission for full deployment of automated metering infrastructure, commonly referred to as smart meters. This is an investment that will have tangible, industry-recognized impacts in improving our service reliability and outage restoration processes.
These meters allow us to remotely determine if a customer-member or a business has electricity. Today, we are dependent on someone answering the phone or sending a service crew to a specific account to verify if itís energized. With these new meters, we will be able to remotely send a radio frequency signal and receive instantaneous verification if that account is energized or not. This will greatly improve our outage restoration efficiency, our record keeping and overall business process.
We installed these meters at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and Webster Field in St. Maryís County in 2011. Homes and businesses in a neighborhood in Waldorf have had these meters as part of a 1,000-meter pilot program since March 2011.
The safe and secure meters have saved time and money, allowing us to remotely and accurately read meters without dispatching a truck and meter reader. These are just some of the operational benefits. Eventually, these meters will be able to send updated electricity usage information that customers will access through a secure Internet portal at their homes or businesses.
Our mission at SMECO is to provide safe, reliable electricity to our customer-members at the lowest possible price. This mission and dedication to our customer-members has led to awards and statewide recognition, but this cannot continue without sound investments in proven and safe technology such as smart meters.
Austin J. Slater Jr., Hughesville
The writer is the president and CEO of the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.