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With old-fashioned electric meters gone, the meter-readers will be laid off, too

Florida Power & Light’s celebrated replacement of its electric meters with digital devices has brought a predictable side effect: laid-off meter readers.

The utility giant is ramping up its planned elimination of about 690 jobs throughout the state, a downsizing brought on by the stimulus-funded installation of “smart meters” throughout Florida. The new meters link directly to FPL’s computer system, eliminating the need for a squad of workers paid to visit each customer and manually record the electric consumption.

So far, about 190 meter readers have been let go statewide, an FPL spokeswoman said, including 21 last month. That leaves roughly 500 positions to be eliminated in the next 18 months. Of the remaining cuts, 50 will come from the meter-reading ranks.

“We no longer have to send a meter reader to your home,’’ FPL spokeswoman Elaine Hinsdale said Thursday. The company’s meter readers “knew it was a temporary position, and that once this technology was rolled out these jobs would go away.”

Channel 10 first reported on the ongoing layoffs on Thursday. Hinsdale said FPL began eliminating meter-reading jobs in the fall of 2011 and has been warning workers that their positions were endangered. Of the nearly 700 positions on the elimination list, about 240 were meter readers and the remaining jobs were tied to work on the electric grid that has been made obsolete by the digital upgrades, Hinsdale said.

The $800 million switch to smart meters began in 2009 and received $200 million from the federal stimulus program. It is part of a broader effort to encourage energy conservation by letting customers track their electricity use by the hour, which the digital meters allow. The system, which was launched in Miami-Dade and completed statewide this spring, also lets FPL detect power outages remotely, rather than relying on customers to call, Hinsdale said. In all, about 4.5 million smart meters were installed.

She said FPL was working with meter readers to find them other jobs in the company, but she did not have any specific figures on retained workers or where the layoffs have taken place.

FPL employs about 10,000 people in Florida. Its parent, NextEra Energy Resources, reported $5 billion in operating profits last year.

This story was updated to correct an incorrect figure for the total cost of FPL’s smart-meter program.