Joining the current push in the utility industry to streamline its meter reading operations, Portland, OR-based Northwest Natural Gas Co. began Monday installing 60,000 of roughly a quarter-of-a-million customers with smart metering devices allowing meter-reading employees to collect data remotely from their vehicles while driving by customers’ premises. It’s a $3.8 million initial phase to a utilitywide program that eventually will outfit all of the utility’s gas meters with the cell-phone size devices.

The conversion in one county (Clark) in south-central Washington state, across the Columbia River from Portland, should be completed by November, Northwest Natural officials told local news media.

Produced by Spokane, WA-based Itron Inc., the devices are radio transmitters that will send the meter readings data to hand-held mobile receivers that Northwest Natural’s meter-reading employees will use to collect each customer’s data. Eventually, the reading will be done more quickly with fewer employees, Northwest Natural said.

The private-sector natural gas-only utility has a good local model for the metering upgrade from the Clark County Public Utility District (PUD), which four years ago finished installing similar automatic meter reading devices on its electric meters. An official with the PUD said the utility would have had to hire at least two other meter readers by now if it were not for the meter-reading devices.

Northwest Natural serves slightly more than 235,000 natural gas customers in western Oregon/southwest Washington, along with part of the Columbia River Gorge.

©Copyright 2006Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.