This week's blizzard will force utility companies to guess how much electricity or natural gas their customers have used this month.
That is a common practice when snow or other weather conditions prevent company employees from reaching meters.
But new technology means the two largest utilities serving Oklahoma City will not have to resort to estimating as much as in the past.
“We'll be estimating approximately 5 percent,” Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Brian Alford said. “Of course that could change with conditions during the next few days.”
OG&E has installed more than 200,000 smart meters in Oklahoma, so the company already has access to electricity usage information for those
Oklahoma Natural Gas has been installing remote-
“We are putting technicians in four-wheel drive vehicles to do the drive-by data collection where possible,” he said. “But in other instances, the hazardous conditions and drifting snow will make physical meter reading impossible in the short term.”
Sherry said he did not know how many bills would be based on estimates at this point.
Tulsa's Public Service Co. of Oklahoma expects to have to use estimates on about a quarter of its customers' bills.
PSO meter readers have not been able to read their regular routes due to this week's snowfall and continued extreme weather conditions, the company said.
“Except for some locations in far southeast Oklahoma, roads all across PSO's service area have been treacherous, at best, and in many cases, completely impassable since Tuesday,” said Bobby Mouser, PSO's director of customer services and marketing.
“It's a rarity that our meter readers are not able to get out to read their routes, and we're hopeful conditions will improve enough to resume reading meters by this weekend.”
Customers whose meters normally would have been read this week will begin receiving their bills early next week. Those bills will indicate whether they are based on an actual or estimated reading.
Officials with all three utility companies said future bills will be adjusted if necessary to reflect actual readings.
Weather increases demand
OG&E's Brian Alford said this week's weather increased electricity demand to near-record levels that are likely to continue until temperatures rise.
â€œThe prolonged cold also is creating some operational issues at our power plants. We're seeing freezing in pipes as well as on moving parts such as conveyor systems,â€ he said. â€œOur plant employees are working around the clock to fight the cold and ensure that we're able to meet the high demand.
He said he did not expect any planned outages such as those seen in Texas due to high demand.
â€œWhile we're not immune to the impact weather can have on generation, our plants along with off-system purchases and load management have been able to meet demand,â€ he said. â€œWe don't anticipate resorting to controlled outages, but in these types of situations you must be prepared for contingencies.â€
ONG's Don Sherry said natural gas consumption has increased to more than 1.5 billion cubic feet per day since Tuesday, but lower fuel costs should keep bills down. He said gas currently costs $4.58 a dekatherm, down from $6.76 a year ago.