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Oklahoma utility company may have to estimate bills after blizzard

Some Oklahoma utility customers could get estimated bills this month because of Tuesday's blizzard.
BY JAY F. MARKS Published: February 4, 2011

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 customers.

Oklahoma Natural Gas has been installing remote-reading devices on customers' meters, so the company won't have to estimate as many bills this month, spokesman Don Sherry said.

“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.”

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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.

“The 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,” he said. “Our 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.

“While 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,” he said. “We don't anticipate resorting to controlled outages, but in these types of situations you must be prepared for contingencies.”

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.


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