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Avista To Install New "Smart Meters" in Homes, Businesses

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Doug Nadvornick/SPR
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Imagine using your smart phone to check in on how much energy your home or business are using. Avista says that will be possible with a new two-year project to install new “smart” meters and sensors for all of its Washington customers.

During a press event at Avista on Monday, Heather Rosentrater said customers often complain after receiving their monthly bills in the mail.

“I’ve heard the frustrations about not understanding how their behavior impacts a bill that they received 30 days after they’ve used that energy,” Rosentrater said.

Rosentrater is Avista’s vice president of energy delivery.

The utility announced Monday that it will begin replacing home and business electric meters that are often dozens of years old with new versions made by Liberty Lake-based Itron. It will also install new sensors on existing gas meters. Rosentrater says the new machinery will allow Avista to more closely track its customers’ consumption habits.

“And then that information will be available to customers to view on their secure account,” she said.

Josh DiLuciano — Avista’s director of electrical engineering — says customers will be able to see their electricity usage in five-minute intervals and their gas consumption in hourly intervals.

“Part of our plan down the road is that customers will be able to get proactive alerts if they choose to. Avista will be able to notify them when their usage is trending outside of a normal value that they would expect,” DiLuciano said.

DiLuciano says the new meters will also help Avista discover power outages faster and react more quickly to repair them. He says they would ha ve been a big help during the region’s destructive windstorm in 2015.

“As that storm rolled out, we would have had insight into what was going on across the system and been able to allocate and prioritize our crews as we needed. And then, as we restored customers, we would have been able to use that information to verify what had been restored versus what was left out there,” he said.

Over the next two years, Avista estimates it will install about 450,000 meters in Washington in two phases. The first phase will come this fall when the utility will swap out about four thousand meters downtown, around Spokane International Airport and at Clear Lake. It will monitor how the new meter system works and make tweaks before phase two, which will start next spring in Spokane.

Avista has already installed Itron’s smart meters in a small part of its Washington service area. Sharelynn Moore is Itron’s senior vice president of networked solutions.  

“We’ve employed very similar technology at a smaller scale in Pullman, going back just a few years. The technology was installed. Avista was able to glean benefits in operational efficiency as well as improve the reliability of their electricity system there,” Moore said.

The meter conversion project is expected to take about two years and cost Avista $165 million. Utility officials hope to pay for it through future rate hikes. The company will apply for those with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission after the installation is finished. Avista officials say they’ll also consider smart meter projects for their customers in Idaho and Oregon.