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FAQs about smart meter technology


NorthWestern Energy is installing 65,000 smart electric meters and 95,000 gas modules in South Dakota and Nebraska for our electric and gas customers as part of an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) project that will enable two-way meter communication between NorthWestern Energy and its meters. Here are some frequently asked questions about
smart meters:

What are smart meters?
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 smart meters?
Utilities across the United States and Canada have been replacing old-style electromechanical meters with digital smart meters for the past decade. Industry research groups estimate that approximately 50 percent of the 180 million electric meters in the U.S. and Canada are now smart, with the vast majority of those smart meters – approximately 95 percent or more – using RF (radio frequency) communication to send data to the energy company. It is estimated that by 2020, virtually all electric meters in the U.S. and Canada will be smart and electromechanical meter technology will be largely obsolete.
Who will get a smart meter?
Nearly all electric and gas customers in South Dakota and Nebraska will receive an upgrade. Electric customers will receive a new smart 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 the information to NorthWestern Energy.
Who will do the installation?
The meters and modules will be installed by Itron, NorthWestern Energy’s installation vendor. Itron personnel will be clearly identifiable and will carry proper identification. Installers will be driving white Ford Escapes with an “Itron Utility Services” logo on them.
What is the project timeline?
NorthWestern Energy is expecting to begin AMI installation in October 2018. The project is expected to wrap up by the end of 2019. Click here for an up-to-date installation schedule.
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 what 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.
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 smart meters benefit customers?
Smart-meter technology will allow NorthWestern Energy to better support customer inquiries and pinpoint electric outages. 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, which improves service reliability and power quality. (We advise customers to reference our online outage map and to contact NWE with questions regarding an outage.) The installation of smart meters will also provide current energy usage information to address customer questions related to bills, their energy use and opportunities for energy savings. It also increases customer’s privacy and convenience because meter readers no longer will need to access customer’s properties as often.
How do smart meters benefit NorthWestern Energy?
Smart 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.

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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