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Pullman Smart Grid Project Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Pullman Smart Grid Demonstration Project?

Avista has joined with regional utilities, led by Battelle NW, to demonstrate smart grid technologies using matching stimulus monies from the U.S. Department of Energy. Avista will contribute $14.9 million and its local partners an additional $4 million to create a smart grid in Pullman, which includes the following major efforts:

  • Updating and automating Avista’s distribution system throughout the Pullman area
  • Advanced Meter Deployment (All Pullman customers within scope)
  • Smart Home Pilot (Pullman voluntary pilot customers)

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What entities are involved in the Pullman Smart Grid Demonstration Project?

Battelle NW is leading the regional Pacific Northwest smart grid demonstration project. Within this project, Avista is leading the Pullman Smart Grid Demonstration Project. Our local cost-share partners are Itron, Washington State University, Hewlett Packard and Spirae. Other partners include vendors and contractors such as Scope and Efacec Advanced Control Systems, who will provide equipment, installation services, and more. Many of our Smart Grid devices incorporate relay devices produced by Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Inc. (SEL) for both protection and logic control. The reclosers and switched capacitors are examples of those devices. SEL remains a supportive contributor to the overall success of the SGDP project.

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What is the goal of the Smart Grid Demonstration project?  

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The regional project is intended to demonstrate smart grid technologies, show how the electric grid can react to sudden changes in power supply and demand, and prepare our region for the transition of the electrical grid to a smart grid over the next 20 years by:

  • Upgrading electrical facilities and automating the electrical distribution system to support digital, intelligent devices and two-way communication between the utility and all parts of the grid.
  • Demonstrating technologies and tools, including advanced metering, in-home devices, and web tools, that can enable customers to actively monitor and manage their energy usage and make more informed decisions about choices that drive energy efficiency and costs.

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What is the smart grid?

We envision the smart grid to be a more efficient and effective electricity infrastructure that can help contain costs, reduce emissions, incorporate more wind power and other types of renewable energy, increase power grid reliability and provide greater flexibility for consumers. Over the long-term, it could modernize our traditional, one-way power delivery system to an automated, two-way exchange of information and multi-directional power flow.

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What are the potential benefits of this project?

System improvements can help us reduce waste and increase efficiency in the delivery of power.

  • Less waste from lost power as it moves through the transmission and distribution system helps reduce operating costs and conserves power to help meet demand.

Reliability/minimizing the impact of outages

  • Self-healing distribution technology can automatically detect and isolate an outage, saving time and reducing outage frequency and length for customers.

Customer Energy Management

  • Two-way communications can enable customers to actively monitor and manage their energy usage and make more informed decisions about choices that drive energy efficiency and costs.

Environmental benefits

  • Integrating variable renewable power, such as wind and solar
  • Distributed generation enabled by multi-directional power flow

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Will the costs of this project be included in customers’ rates?

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Avista would expect to recover the costs for this project as we would any other capital project, which means we could ask for cost recovery through customer rates. When our costs change, Avista applies to the state regulatory commissions for a rate change. Because we’re a regulated utility, we must go through a detailed public process when we propose a rate change. We must demonstrate that the rate change is justified, or it won’t be approved.
However, we believe the potential benefits of the project, which include operating more efficiently and reducing the frequency and duration of outages, can help offset the initial costs of the project. Also, because the project is partly funded with federal stimulus dollars it helps us make these improvements at a much lower cost than we otherwise could.

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What is an advanced meter?

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Advanced meters, also called “smart” meters, are digital meters that operate via a secure wireless network, allowing two-way, real-time communication between the customers’ meter and the utility. 

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What benefits could customers see as a result of advanced meters?

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  • Ultimately, the advanced meters could help customers better manage their energy costs.  Advanced metering technology provides ongoing energy use information that Avista can provide to customers via tools like the web portal, which will allow customers to actively monitor their energy consumption and make more informed decisions about choices that drive energy efficiency and costs. 
  • Advanced meters automatically report outages at an individual home or business, without customers having to place a call to Avista to report the outage. This allows Avista to more quickly and efficiently restore outages. The meters are part of a system of automated distribution technology, which can also automatically detect, report and isolate an outage, saving time and reducing outage frequency and length for all customers.
  • The new meters will allow Avista to remotely connect and disconnect new or discontinued service, without having to send a service employee to the home or business. This will allow a customer to connect service immediately, without having to wait for a service employee.

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Who will receive the new meters?

About 13,000 electric and 5,000 gas customers in and around the city of Pullman, Wash. and the community of Albion, Wash., will have their meters upgraded to the new, digital meters. The new meters will be installed beginning in March, 2011, with a goal of completion by late spring or early summer.

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What impact will the meter installation process have on customers?

Customers’ electric service may be interrupted for a few minutes during the meter change out. Avista crews will be working as quickly and safely as possible, and will knock and notify anyone at the home before beginning work.

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What is the web portal, and who will it be available to?

The advanced meter technology investment will enable Avista to provide information to customers about their ongoing energy usage, through our secure website, so customers can make more informed decisions about how to use energy. Customers with advanced meters will be able to log in to their Avista Utilities account as they can now, but will have additional enhanced tools to monitor and manage their energy usage throughout the month, so they can make more informed decisions about choices that drive energy efficiency and costs.

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When will the web portal be available to customers?

The web portal is currently slated for fall of 2011.

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How will the new meters affect customers’ bills?

Customers will still be billed about once a month for their total monthly usage, just as they always have. However, unlike the old meters that had to be read manually, advanced meters send usage data to Avista constantly using advanced communications technology, without Avista having to access a customer’s property. This will allow Avista to provide information to customers about their ongoing energy use. Sometime after the meter installations are complete, most likely in late summer or early fall, Avista plans to begin to take monthly remote reads for billing purposes.

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What information will the new meters gather?

As part of the five-year project Avista will collect and report aggregated usage information to Battelle. This information is necessary to understand the automated response of the electrical distribution system with respect to the demonstration project’s regional transactive signal, which allows for automated response to intermittent energy sources and loads. 

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How is Avista addressing security concerns?

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Avista is committed to protecting our customers’ security and privacy, and has stringent security measures in place to encrypt and protect customer information. Data is transmitted via a secure wireless network. Individual customer use, billing and personal information is treated as confidential, according to our customer privacy policy.

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Will Avista control or regulate customers’ power usage with the advanced meters?

No. Avista will not control customers’ power usage without the customers’ knowledge and permission. Customers involved in a separate voluntary demand response pilot will be part of a project in which, with customers’ permission, Avista may automatically and non-intrusively turn down end-use appliances for short periods. Customers can opt out of the project or override settings at any time.

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Are there any health risks related to the new meters or smart technologies?

While we understand the concern, Avista is confident that the advanced metering and other smart technologies do not pose safety or health hazards to our customers. The metering equipment is installed outside the home and is designed to operate intermittently at very low power levels. The metering equipment operates at radio frequencies similar to common household items like wireless modems and cell phones. There are no known safety or health hazards related to radio frequencies at these levels. All equipment is designed and stringently tested to operate within state and federal safety standards. Find more information about radio frequencies and electric and magnetic fields.

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Will the advanced metering system interfere with TV, radio, personal computers, home security systems, garage door openers, pacemakers or other electronic equipment?

No.  The meter operates at a low-level of power and radio frequency reserved for this purpose and should not interfere with any other equipment.

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Could the advanced meters allow customers with alternative power generation to participate in net metering programs?

Yes, the meters could be configured for net metering in the future.

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