Avista Plans $165M Meter Upgrade

By Virginia Thomas, Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane-based Avista Utilities is partnering with Liberty Lake-based meter technology manufacturer Itron Inc. to install smart meters throughout Avista’s Washington service territory in a $165 million project scheduled to begin next fall, the utility company announced at a press conference at its headquarters this morning.

In all, Avista estimates it will replace about 450,000 meters.

Avista’s vice president of energy delivery Heather Rosentrater says electricity customers will see their existing meter replaced by a smart meter, while gas customers will receive retrofitted smart modules on their existing gas meter.

“Smart meters are an essential component of a modern grid,” Rosentrater says. “The installation of them will enable us to fundamentally shift the way we’re able to partner with our customers.”

Smart meters, which communicate energy usage information through low-power radio frequency waves, will be introduced later this year to Avista’s residential and commercial customers in downtown Spokane, in the area around Spokane International Airport, and in the Clear Lake community. After a few months of monitoring and evaluation, Avista will replace meters in nine other areas in phases, beginning with replacements in Spokane, from March through June 2019. The last phase will involve replacing meters in the Colville and Inchelium areas from July through October 2020. A full map of zones is available at myavista.com/smartmeters.

The new meters collect data, which is encrypted before it’s transmitted to a network router located on a utility pole. The encrypted information then is sent to Avista via cellular signal, or via satellite for more remote areas. Data is collected in hourly intervals for gas customers, says Avista director of electrical engineering Josh DiLuciano, and in five-minute intervals for electricity customers.

Avista spokeswoman Laurine Jue says the utility is employing deferred accounting, meaning the cost of the project won’t impact customers until after the project has been completed, although the Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission would have to approve a rate increase.