Fences and bushes and dogs, oh my! The life of a CPS Energy meter reader

What if the information you needed to do your job was tucked behind a locked fence, hidden in a field of tall grass or located next to a vicious dog that won’t stop barking at you?

For CPS Energy meter readers, it’s all in a day’s work.

With approximately 637,000 electric meters alone in CPS Energy’s service area, reading meters can be a bit of a challenge. Recently, I spoke with some of our meter readers and heard about the kinds of obstacles they face every day.  Intrigued, I decided I wanted to experience what it’s like to be a meter reader for a day.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

First I was given the official CPS Energy meter reading uniform: a long-sleeved, thick-cotton button up shirt, a company baseball cap, a small telescope to read meters from a distance (they call this scoping) and some pepper spray, in case I got attacked by Bigfoot – okay, maybe not the real Bigfoot, but maybe a dog named Bigfoot?  In any case, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to use the spray.

Once I got everything I needed, I set off to meet up with one of our meter readers, Irene Vidales.

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Once Irene and I got to our destination, I grabbed my camera, my cool sunglasses and we headed down the street.

Not even a minute had gone by before we were up against our first barrier. The electric meter was in the back yard, behind a locked gate.

We had to walk back around to the alley and peek through the fence boards to try and get a reading.

Irene tries to get a good angle to scope, but it’s difficult when you have a dog barking and jumping in front of your face.

“I’m used to it.” she says, and gets the reading. We move on to the next house, and Irene explains why scoping is sometimes the only option.

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As we continue our quest, we find several meters hiding behind bushes.   Customers often don’t realize that planting a bush in front of their meter makes it harder to get an accurate read. Some even build small structures around them, Irene tells me.

“An unobstructed meter makes for a quicker and more accurate read,” she says – and that’s helpful to customers and CPS Energy alike. They get accurate reads, and our readers can do their job quickly and safely.

Dogs are another story.

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After a couple of hours and several blocks, the temperature was rising quickly. I started to feel the sweat roll down my back thanks to the oversized logo on my back.  Luckily for me, I had on a pair of comfortable tennis shoes.  For Irene, however, safety takes priority over comfort. You won’t believe what I found inside her shoes.

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It’s now 97 degrees, we’ve been walking for miles and we’ve had two dogs lunge at us. (Luckily, no pepper spray was needed) I’m sweaty and Irene’s feet are numb from her metal insoles. But it’s about to get a little more interesting.  I hear someone shouting at me from down the street; “Hey, you didn’t read my meter!!”

It’s a customer and he’s not happy.  Meet Mr. Garcia:

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Despite all the walking, the heat, the dogs and the occasional upset customer, Irene still enjoys what she does.

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By the end of the day I realized this job is not for everyone — and certainly not for me. It takes a special kind of person, one who’s not afraid to battle the outdoor elements of our great big city.  I have a newfound respect for all of CPS Energy’s meter readers — and for all those who work out in the field every day.  My hat goes off to you.

I also have a new appreciation for keeping meters unobstructed, and hope that you will take a moment and make sure there’s a clear line of sight to yours.  Help our meter readers help you, by following these simple tips.


Albert was part of the Corporate Communications team at CPS Energy.

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