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Montana Meter Upgrade Project

 
Intro

NorthWestern Energy will install approximately 590,000 new electric meters and gas modules in Montana starting in 2021 as part of a technology upgrade project that will enable two-way meter communication between NorthWestern Energy and its customer meters. The company installed 160,000 new electric meters and gas modules in South Dakota and Nebraska between 2018 and 2020.

For timeline for the project, click here. Here are some frequently asked questions about this technology upgrade:

Old v newWhat are the upgraded features?

This technology upgrade will allow two-way communication between NorthWestern Energy and its meters on customer homes and businesses. The meters will read total energy use, kWh, and therms, and securely communicate the information to NorthWestern Energy’s data center.

Why upgrade the meters?

The energy landscape is changing — and so are our customers’ expectations. As we modernize the energy grid, including using two-way communicating meters, also known as smart meters, our customers will benefit. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than 60% of all U.S. electric customers have smart meters today.

In Montana, we have used first-generation one-way communication smart meters, using AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) technology, for more than 20 years.

The upgraded meters will allow two-way communication between NorthWestern Energy and our meters to read total energy use, report outages and identify voltage issues on the system that can be addressed to prevent outages, using secure communication to NorthWestern Energy’s data center.

Katie Springer Meter Reading vehicle 1 - web sizeWhat kind of metering system does NorthWestern Energy have today in Montana?

NorthWestern Energy has been reading existing meters remotely 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 upgraded metering NorthWestern Energy will install in Montana starting in 2021.

The upgraded metering technology uses similar wireless communication technology but uses strategically placed collectors mounted on power poles that replace the need for a vehicle.


What is the project timeline?

NorthWestern Energy will begin installation in Montana in 2021. It is a three-year project.

When will the meters be installed?

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 cannot perform the upgrade, a door hanger will be left with instructions to call to make an appointment.

If you are both an electric and natural gas NorthWestern Energy customer, the new electric meter will be installed first and the new gas module will be installed during a follow-up visit to your home or business within the following eight weeks.

Meter

Are radio frequency (RF) emissions coming from the meters and modules?

Yes. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the safety limits for all RF emissions, and smart meter and module emissions make up a small portion of the limit. The RF emissions of the one-way communication meters in use now and the two-way communication meters that are being installed for this technology upgrade are both approved by the FCC. Radio frequency emissions are also produced by common household devices such as microwaves, baby monitors and TVs.

Is customer information protected?

Yes. Customer privacy and security are NorthWestern Energy priorities. 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 any personally identifiable information.

The meters measure total energy and cannot differentiate energy usage by appliance or anything else within a home or business. The transmitted energy use information is encrypted.

MissoulaDo smart meters help move us toward a more sustainable future?

Yes. The energy grid is evolving, driven by the need to support more renewable resources as we transition to an even cleaner energy future. The challenge with renewable resources is that they are often variable in nature and do not align with the timing of highest energy demands.  Smart metering provides more data on grid operations, which will allow opportunities for the implementation of new customer programs and technology that will help balance the energy grid with renewable supply resources.

Like adding an app to your smartphone requires an agreement between the customer and the provider, NorthWestern Energy and each customer will have to agree before any future customer technology could be activated. For example, many energy companies have apps and online platforms where customers can view their energy data. These meters and the data produced are the foundations for a new world of energy possibilities. In the future, NorthWestern Energy customers may be able to CHOOSE to participate in new programs, rates and services to save money on their energy bills while also conserving energy.   

The meter upgrade project will reduce the number of miles NorthWestern Energy vehicles are on the road. NorthWestern Energy will be able to perform functions remotely that today require a trip to a customer’s home or business. The meters read total household or business energy use and send that information to collectors located on power poles. This eliminates the need for a vehicle with a mounted collector to drive past customer homes and businesses.

Will I have to pay for the meter?

No. The electric meters and gas modules are purchased and owned by NorthWestern Energy. They are part of our infrastructure, similar to our power poles and transformers.

Meter graphicHow do the meters benefit customers?

Upgraded metering technology will improve service reliability. In most cases, the system will notify NorthWestern Energy of an outage. This advanced notification allows crews to restore customer’s service faster.

The upgraded meters will provide total energy use on an interval basis to address customer questions related to bills, their energy use and opportunities for energy savings.

In South Dakota, where NorthWestern Energy customers now have meters using two-way communication, system voltage information is transmitted to the NorthWestern Energy data center. This information allows us to take proactive actions to prevent service outages and to identify issues before problems result in an outage.

Truck graphicHow do the upgraded meters benefit NorthWestern Energy?

The upgraded meters and modules communicate energy usage information daily. The data is sent remotely to NorthWestern Energy’s data center for operations, billing and customer service. This means we can better assist our customers with individual energy needs and more quickly detect and respond to power outages and inquiries.


Who will get new meters?

Electric customers will receive an upgraded meter, and natural gas customers will receive an upgraded module on their existing gas meter. Net metering customers will receive a new electric meter at a later date. Net metering customers who are also natural gas customers will receive an upgraded module on their existing gas meter.

What happens to the meter on my home or business now?

NorthWestern Energy has a contract to recycle the electric meters and gas modules in use now when new meters and modules are installed.

Tru check logoWho will change my meter?

NorthWestern Energy contracted with Tru-Check to install the new digital meters, the same company that installed the first generation, one-way communication digital meters in 1998 that are in use today.

Tru-Check technicians will wear apparel with the Tru-Check logo and will carry a NorthWestern Energy contractor identification badge.

How is COVID-19 impacting this project?

NorthWestern Energy and our partner installation company, Tru-Check, are following CDC guidelines, including social distancing and wearing a mask while interacting with our customers. Safety of our employees, our partner employees and our customers are the top priority. Just like all projects for all businesses, COVID-19 could affect our deployment timeline if installers are quarantined or isolated due to the virus.

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