The daunting four year job to replace all 750,000 electric meters in CPS Energy's system began right on schedule on Monday, with the first 'smart meters' being installed in neighborhoods on the near northeast side and in the Leon Valley area, Newsradio 1200 WOAI's Michael Board reports.

  CPS Energy's John Moreno says, in addition to being far more accurate, the smart meters, which will automatically beam your power usage back to the utility, will also be invaluable when there is a power outage.

  "They made it automatic to send to us what they refer to as a 'last gasp'," Moreno said.  "That is a signal to us that the customer is out of power."

  The cost of upgrading traditional electric meters to smart meters will cost CPS Energy $290 million.  

  The transformation will mean the traditional meter reader, who would have to dodge dogs and bramble bushes to check out every month how much electricity your home used will no longer be needed.  But CPS Energy says the meter readers will be retrained, not laid off.

  "Obviously they are still needed to go in there every month for maintenance or whatever," Moreno said.  "But we won't have to go in there every month to obtain a meter reading."

  The smart meters, starting next year, will enable you to check up on your power usage regularly on line, so you can determine exactly how much it costs to have guests over to your home, or to leave that porch light on all night.

  Gas meters will also be switched out and replaced with smart meters as well.

  The first areas to get smart meters will be in the area north of Ft. Sam Houston and east of Broadway on the northeast side, and the Leon Valley area on the northwest side.  The entire city inside Loop 410 should be switched sometime in 2015, with the outer areas getting a visit in the two years following that.

  Having a smart meter installed won't cost you anything, and the utility will send you a letter thirty days in advance and call you seven days in advance to tell you that the meter switch is on the way.  You won't have to be there when it happens.

  You can 'opt out' of the smart meter program if you want,' but $20 a month will be added to your bill to pay for the meter reader.