LP&L meter readers face challenges, possible changes

LP&L meter readers face challenges, possible changes

Lubbock Power & Light meter readers have a lot of ground to cover. They have about 183,000 electric and water meters to check, and right now there's only 12 on staff.
Finding employees to do the job is rather tough for the utility. 

Tracy Rollins is a pro. He's been reading meters for quite some time. Rollins is the LP&L Supervisor of meter reading. 

"A meter reader on a walking route that doesn't have a driving route that's reading commercial business and residential areas is about 550 meters per day water and electric," he said.

Rollins has to brave a lot of elements: the weather, loud dogs barking in the alleyways, and another problem the tall weeds that sometimes surround the meters.

"The hot, cold, rain," he said. The rain especially. The rain this year really hurt us bad."

LP&L has 19 positions for meter readers. Right now, there's only 12. Matt Rose, LP&L Spokesman, explains. 

"It is a very physical and demanding job," he said. We ask our meter readers to be incredibly accurate, and we also ask them to go out in the hottest of hot days in Lubbock and the coldest of cold days."

However, this means there's a lot of turnover. Still, Rose said the meter readers are very accurate.

"There is always a question out there, do they actually read the meters. Yes, every single month, every single meter gets read," he said.

As times change so does technology. LP&L is a little behind on the times. 

Mayor Glen Roberston said, "I believe over 70 percent of the electric utility in the state uses advanced metering, at some point we need to there."  As a city, I think that is one of the reasons we need to create this utility department in the future. We could go to advanced metering technology for water and electricity. We could provide a lot more services to our rate payers."

Mayor Robertson supports advanced or smart meters.

"Less staffing, you've got more accuracy," he said. You've also got the ability for the folks who maybe can't afford to pay for a whole month's of water and electricity at a time."

Rose said advanced meters would allow LP&L to work with its customers throughout the month.

"If they have an outage they don't have to call us," he said. We know that they are out, and we can go take care of it independently."

Rose says smart meters would allow customers to monitor their usage more closely.

"LP&L wants to be in the situation where we can put more power into the hands of our customers," Rose said. As it is right now, the bill that you get from us it is 30 days old. It's electricity that has already been used."

Rose said if the time comes that LP&L does switch to smart meters, the meter reading staff will still be needed.

"They are out there every single day, reading every single meter and I don't think they get a lot of the credit they deserve," he said.

Smart meters is not in this year's budget. Rose said it's in a five-year outlay plan. Rollins does have a friendly reminder, keep your weeds trimmed in the alleys to make it easier for them to find and read the meters.

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