Providing customers energy information they can apply to operating their businesses is a competitive service in current electric markets.

LCRA, a public generation and transmission utility serving rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities in Central Texas, assists 30 of its customers with metering and meter data services for their key accounts. Daily access to electric data posted to secure Web sites is a service that helps utility and plant staffs manage their work.

LCRA offers its Web data service through a contract with MeterSmart (Arlington, Texas, U.S.), a Hunt Power service. MeterSmart reads approximately 300 electric meter-recorders daily for LCRA and its wholesale customers' key accounts. After retrieving data with its MV-90 system, MeterSmart verifies its accuracy and posts the data to its PowerPrice Web site. Each consumer and wholesale customer has access to a discrete secure site. The 15-minute interval data are current through the early morning of each day.

For LCRA staff overseeing key account data management, the Web data enables quick troubleshooting. In August, for example, a wholesale customer's consumer representative called asking for help after a plant manager questioned the reliability of service. By the time the customer rep returned to his office, LCRA staff had e-mailed graphs from the Web site illustrating drops in demand when voltage went out of balance. The customer-service rep used them as the starting point of a step-by-step diagnosis of distribution equipment and the plant's internal operations.

Distribution utility staffs also use the Web to help verify the duration of outages, comparing billing determinants on their wholesale power bills and advising their consumers on billing matters. One electric cooperative has a link on its own company Web site to direct its key account customers to their own data.

Managers at plants use the data for financial and operational planning. The head of operations at a mine estimates his monthly electric costs for his remote, main office using the Web-based data. In a recent visit at the plant, LCRA staff demonstrated the load duration curve feature in the graphics package. The mining manager said the curve was a clear image of his operation, and that he would use the curve in the future to review scheduling.

The information services manager of another industry said her company's finance people have used the Web data routinely since the service became available. Electricity is her company's second-highest cost, so managing it is important. This summer, the operations staff learned about the Web data, “and we showed them how it works. Now they love it and use it to estimate their electric use.”
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