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FAQs about advanced meter technology


NorthWestern Energy will be installing approximately 386,000 advanced electric meters and 209,000 gas modules in Montana starting in 2021 as part of an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) project that will enable two-way meter communication between NorthWestern Energy and its meters. The company installed 65,000 advanced electric meters and 95,000 gas modules in South Dakota and Nebraska for our electric and gas customers starting in 2018. Here are some frequently asked questions about advanced meters, also known as smart meters:

What are advanced meters?
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), also referred to as smart meters, use digital technology similar to a mobile phone that will allow for two-way communication between NorthWestern Energy and its meters that are on customer homes and businesses. The meters will record energy use and safely and securely communicate to NorthWestern’s computer data center.
Why advanced meters?
The energy landscape is changing — and so are our customers’ expectations. As we modernize the grid with advanced meters, our customers will benefit in many ways. By 2018, nearly 60% of all U.S. electricity customers had advanced meters according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In Montana, we are already using the first-generation advanced meters, called AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) technology, which allows one-way communication. AMI will allow two-way communication between NorthWestern and our meters, allowing us to record energy use, report problems and safely and securely communicate to NorthWestern’s data center.
What kind of metering system does NorthWestern Energy have today in Montana?
NorthWestern has been reading existing meters wirelessly since 1998. Our existing technology uses a meter reader collector that is mounted in a vehicle. The vehicle drives around, communicates wirelessly with the meter and retrieves current meter reads. This system is aging and does not provide the benefits of the advanced metering NorthWestern Energy will be installing in Montana starting in 2021. The new advanced metering technology uses similar wireless communication technology, but uses strategically placed collectors mounted on utility poles that replace the need for a vehicle.
What is the project timeline?
NorthWestern Energy is expecting to begin AMI installation in Montana in 2021. It is a three-year project.
When will the meters be installed?
Customers will receive a letter a couple of weeks prior to installation in their area. Most of the installations will occur Monday through Friday during business hours, though there will be cases when evening or weekend installations may be necessary. Customers don't need to be home. A door hanger will let residents know their upgrade was successful. If the technician can’t access the meter, a door hanger will be left with instructions to call to make an appointment.
Are radio frequency (RF) emissions coming from the meters and modules?
Yes, but the RF emissions are far below levels produced by common household devices including microwaves, mobile phones, baby monitors and TV systems. The Federal Communications Commission enforces the safety limits for all RF emissions, and smart meter and module emissions make up a small portion of the limit. For more about RF emissions, visit Itron Radio Frequency Resource Center or watch a video produced by Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative.
Is customer information protected?
Yes. Customer privacy and security is very important to NorthWestern Energy. The company’s strict security standards have contributed to protecting the energy grid and customer privacy for years. The meters do not collect, store or transmit personally identifiable information. Energy usage information that is transmitted will be encrypted. Check out this video produced by Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative on data privacy and smart meters.
How do advanced meters help move us toward a more sustainable future?
The electric grid is evolving, driven by the need for it to be able to support a low-carbon energy future that will rely more on renewable energy and distributed energy technologies. A critical part of this evolution is Advanced Metering Infrastructure. Because advanced metering allows the utility to operate the electric grid more efficiently, it will help to reduce carbon emissions by offsetting some of the need to build future generation.
Will I have to pay for the meter?
No. The electric meters and gas modules are purchased and owned by NorthWestern. They are part of our infrastructure, similar to our power poles and transformers.
How do advanced meters benefit customers?
Advanced metering technology will ultimately improve service reliability and power quality. In most cases, the system will notify NorthWestern of an outage without the need for a customer to call in to notify the company. This allows our crews to return power to customers faster. The installation of advanced meters will also provide current energy usage information to address customer questions related to bills, their energy use and opportunities for energy savings.
How do advanced meters benefit NorthWestern Energy?
Advanced meters and modules communicate energy usage information daily. That information is sent remotely to NorthWestern’s computer data center for operations, billing and customer service. This means we will be able to better assist our customers with their individual energy needs and more quickly detect and respond to power outages and customer inquiries.
Who will get an advanced meter?
Montana electric customers will receive a new advanced meter while natural gas customers will receive a smart module on their existing gas meter. The module on a gas meter records usage and communicates that information to NorthWestern Energy.

Watch this video, "Myths vs. Facts: The Truth About Smart Meters."

For more information about the project, please contact:

Matt Holden
Project Manager

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