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June 11, 2013

After Adopting Manatees, Floridians May Want to 'Save' the Meter Readers



About a month ago, Florida’s Save the Manatee Club—which former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham and singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett established in 1981—offered environmentalists and animal lovers alike the opportunity to “adopt” 20 manatees, those cuddly, cow-like marine mammals that were being endangered by an earlier-than-normal algae bloom of Red Tide off Florida's coast.  

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This month, perhaps the club could extend its good services to the Florida Power & Light (FPL) personnel who used to read residential electricity meters by hand and on foot every month. They are no longer needed to do the job: after installing 4.5 million smart meters—including 153,00 in Manatee County (appropriately enough) and 222,052 in Sarasota—this week, the utility has completed a new direct link to FPL’s computer system from the customer endpoints.

The new smart grid technologies represent an investment of about $800 million, including $200 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and $600 million from the utility. The utility giant will eliminate about 690 jobs statewide, a downsizing facilitated by the stimulus-funded installation of smart meters throughout Florida. So far, about 190 meter readers have been let go statewide, Hinsdale said, with roughly 500 positions to be eliminated in the next 18 months.


Florida’s meter readers may be in as much need of rescue as its manatees (above). Photo courtesy of Save the Manatees Club (taken by David Schrichte).

FPL spokeswoman Elaine Hinsdale told The Bradenton Herald, "As we continue to deliver operational efficiencies with these new tools, we project that another 50 or so positions will be eliminated. Keep in mind that the employees in these positions—many of them temporary jobs—have been kept informed, so they know what to expect and can plan ahead."

Hinsdale also said that FPL had tried to minimize the impact of the job cuts by helping employees find other positions within the company. The Energy Smart Florida project has funded around 300 direct positions within the company since FPL started the project in 2009.

On the plus side, Hinsdale pointed out, "The new meters provide customers with tangible benefits today while laying the foundation for a host of future benefits."  Customers in Bradenton will now have access to an online energy dashboard, which they can use to monitor their energy consumption by the hour, day or month, and make educated decisions that will save power and money.

On the utility side, the system enables FPL to detect power outages remotely rather than relying on customers to call.




Edited by Alisen Downey
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