Powering the past, present and future

Milton-Freewater City Light & Power meter reader Craig Garfield enters numbers off of an electric meter into telecorder while walking his route Thursday in Milton-Freewater.

Craig Garfield maintains a quick clip as he walks along a street in Milton-Freewater.

He approaches the side of a house, finds its electric meter, glances at it and types the number into his telecorder — a TV remote control-sized device strapped to his wrist. Each check takes only seconds.

Garfield is the meter reader for Milton-Freewater City Light &?Power, the oldest municipal owned utility in the state. It is also one of the few involved in a smart grid project — a new way of managing power for the 21st century.

But Garfield doesn’t have to worry about the past, or the future. He’s concerned with the here and now.

He wants to read at least 500 meters in a week. He has read as many as 800 in a week.

That amounts to 8,000 meters a month.

Garfield estimates he walks 17 to 20 miles a day.

He has the city of about 6,500 people broken up into sections and routes. Much like a mail carrier, he’ll park his truck and walk up one side of a street, then back on the other.

He knows exactly where a meter is on the side of a house and can find the corresponding water meter, even when it is buried under a layer of leaves on a fall day.

Garfield admits he has a difficult job, and it takes a particular person to fill it.

For example, when asked if he’s been bitten by a dog, he rolls up his left sleeve and points out the outline of pit bull teeth his forearm.

“It happens,” Garfield says.

On a more comical note, Garfield said he has walked in on people in their back yards not expecting visitors. They’re sometimes less dressed than they might be for guests.

Garfield also knows some of his elderly customers. If they don’t come out to greet him like usual, he’ll knock on a door to make sure they’re OK.

While Garfield’s daily life is a busy whirlwind walking from one house to another, he knows his time is limited. If the future continues as planned for City Light & Power, there will be no need for a meter reader.

City Light &?Power is unique in Eastern Oregon, unique in the state and perhaps unique in the nation.

It has a long history dating back to 1888, starting with a water wheel powering light bulbs in a few homes. It has grown over the years to buy power from Bonneville Power Administration and nearby dams, and has been integrating new technology since the 1980s. It continues to look toward the future as it takes part in the Pacific Northwest?Smart Grid Demonstration Project.

In October the city installed 50 smart grid electric meters that communicate automatically with the grid. It plans to replace all meters in the city.

Garfield is not worried. Having worked for the city for 20 years, he is nearing retirement. His biggest concern will be finding an exercise regiment to match the calories he burns in his day job.

Meanwhile City Light &?Power will continue to build on its history — firmly rooted in the past and always reaching toward the future.

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