Montana electric co-op uses Sensus advanced metering infrastructure

When the power goes out in the mountains of rural Montana, Joe Smith and the staff at Ravalli Electric Co-op can sometimes go for weeks without hearing about it.

With an aging advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system that creates challenges in communicating with the electricity meters in these remote locations, Smith’s hands are often tied.

“Our current system is slow and unreliable, and the communication modules on our meters are systematically failing,” said Smith, Manager of Engineering for REC. “I can’t communicate with about 400 meters right now.”

With about 10,500 meters in the field and a limited staff, Smith and the REC team knew the status quo was no longer acceptable. That’s why they decided to undertake a complete replacement of the system, a rigorous process that led them to Sensus, a Xylem brand.

Smith assembled a selection team of six REC staff members to evaluate and analyze AMI solutions from multiple providers. After narrowing down the field and speaking with several co-ops to gain insight into their AMI deployments, the team’s choice became clear.

“Few co-ops take the hands-on approach we did,” said Smith. “We took a very analytical approach to determining which system would allow us to best serve our members. The robust functionality of the Sensus system gave us confidence that it was the right choice.”

In November 2017, Smith and his team initiated a complete replacement of REC’s AMI system with a Sensus AMI solution comprised of Stratus electricity meters and the FlexNet communication network. Smith anticipates that the point-to-multipoint functionality of the FlexNet system will provide greater flexibility and coverage across Montana’s mountainous topography, while the remote connect/disconnect feature of the Stratus meter will enable better customer service for seasonal users.

“As a vacation destination, we have a lot of members who don’t use their power for part of the year,” said Smith. “Being able to turn on and shut off those accounts seasonally will eliminate the need for our technicians to drive out to those remote areas, sometimes in hazardous weather conditions.”

Smith anticipates the full AMI replacement to be completed by the end of 2019, and he expects it to pay dividends in helping the co-op to foster better relationships with their members.

“Our members own the co-op and this system, so we need to frame everything in terms of how it benefits them,” said Smith. “Right now, when a member’s power goes out, we don’t know about it unless they call. With Sensus, they’ll get a notification within minutes of an outage that we know about it and that we’re on top of it. That kind of communication is invaluable.”

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