Connexus Energy continues with automated meter installations

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.
connexus-meters
SGS will be installing new automated meters at 130,000 homes and business through 2018 in areas serviced by Connexus Energy. File photo

After a successful trial run this past fall and winter, Connexus Energy will install new automated readers for all 130,000 homes and businesses it supplies power to in Anoka, Chisago, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Sherburne, and Washington counties. Connexus hired SGS to install 1,000 meters this past fall to make sure the new meters were properly functioning.

On Monday, April 17, SGS continued its work and will not stop until all 130,000 automated meters are installed. The work will continue through the winter and into 2018, according to Jeff Hendrickson, customer operations manager.

Instead of employees driving approximately one million miles each year to walk up to a meter to collect electrical usage numbers each month, Connexus will be able to collect meter readings over an encrypted radio frequency from its Ramsey office. The data will be stored on a cloud server that will have a dual fire wall to provide two layers of security, according to Jeff Hendrickson, customer operations manager.

Hendrickson said Connexus will no longer need 33 employees to manually read the meters. Only one or two people will be needed to manage the system from Ramsey.

This $20 million project is the largest single investment in Connexus Energy’s history and the system will pay for itself in operational costs savings, according to Connexus Chief Executive Officer Greg Ridderbusch.

“Our members want two things primarily, reliability and cost competitiveness, and this project contributes to both,” he said.

This technology will allow Connexus to more accurately pinpoint power outages in order to improve response time to get electricity restored. Residents and businesses will also be able to monitor their energy usage down to the hour. This gives the consumer more data on when they used the most electricity.

“We hope people can understand their electric use more and be efficient and careful in the way they manage their use,” Ridderbusch said.

Planning for this project started long before Ridderbusch became Connexus’ CEO in October 2015. Hendrickson said Connexus began looking at this about five years ago under the direction of former CEO Mike Rajala. When Rajala retired, the board was several months away from deciding whether to proceed.

Ridderbusch said the average age of the current meters is 24 years old. Connexus needed to start replacing these meters, but the question was timing. Automated metering is not a new technology, but Hendrickson said prices have gone down significantly.

And although the people leading Connexus Energy more than 15 years from now will be faced with replacing similar aged meters, Hendrickson said purchasing these products in bulk was the best option because of better prices per meter. In addition, it’s more efficient to install meters continuously rather than only doing a portion of the work and waiting to start up again, he said.

Residents and business owners will be notified via a mailed postcard two to six weeks before a technician comes to install a new meter, according to Ridderbusch. Nobody needs to be present because the meters are outside.

SRG will work on finishing installation in one region before moving to another area. It will wrap up work in Ramsey and in communities north and south of here in Isanti and Hennepin counties through the end of June before moving west to wrap up Sherburne County in the summer. The bulk of work in Anoka County will happen between October 2017 and June 2018.

Connexus Energy has an “Install Map” link that can be found by visiting www.connexusenergy.com and clicking on the link to learn more about automated meters.

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