One of the biggest, if not the biggest, projects we have had over the last 30 years has been our conversion to an automated meter reading system. The capital investment in this system is more than $5 million, and the conversion has required an immense commitment of employees throughout our organization. In the world of electric utilities, we are quite small, and this type of project places a strain on the workload of our line workers, technicians, engineers, and billing people.
We are pleased that after a little more than one year, we are â€œseeing the light at the end of the tunnelâ€ with this project. Nearly all of our meters have been replaced with new meters, and more than two-thirds of these meters are now being read with the new automated system. We expect to have the ability to read all of our meters over our power lines by year-end.
One of the last steps in the project, which is most confusing to everyone, relates to an adjustment in the billing dates. With the old meter reading system, there was a long delay between the period of time when power was used and when a bill was sent out. Meter reading was a time-consuming process, and we needed to get all of the readings before we could process the bills for a specific month. Two to three weeks elapsed from the time the power was used until the bill was sent out.
The new automated meter reading system will allow Nodak to literally read all of your meters in just minutes. With this system, very little time elapses from the time you use power until we send out the next bill. You can probably see what develops during the conversion. The first bill after your meter is converted to the new system comes relatively soon after your previous bill. This doesnâ€™t mean you are receiving a double billing, it only means there is a one-time shift in the timing of these bills. From then on, your monthly bill will be much closer to the actual period of time the power is consumed.
We understand a cash management concern can arise when two monthly billings come closer together than normal. For this reason, we are more than willing to work with anyone who needs extra time to pay the bill they receive just after the conversion to the new system. Because of the confusion with the change, we are sending a letter to everyone just before the new bill comes to alert them to the situation.
Another problem which can arise when two monthly bills come within a couple of weeks is that the payment of the first bill may be in the mail when the next bill is sent out. When that situation arises, the second bill will show a previous balance, which in essence, has been paid. We are asking everyone to make sure they donâ€™t pay the previous balance if it was recently mailed.
Fortunately, this transition to a new meter reading system is a one-time thing. The new state-of-the-art system will be much better and will save the cooperative money in the long run. For those of you who have been reading your own meter, it will save you the burden of doing that in the future. For Nodak, the new system will create huge efficiency benefits, as well as provide us with more accurate and more current billing data.
We appreciate any cooperation we can get making this necessary, but complicated transition.