The Customer Billing Center Replacement project will allow BPA to continue accurately billing customers, bring in timely revenues and incorporate billing capabilities for market participation. Photo courtesy of Jun Deguzman.
The Bonneville Power Administration is upgrading its high-volume billing system, where accuracy and efficiency are key. The federal nonprofit’s Customer Billing Center is responsible for processing nearly $4 billion of annual power and transmission sales to its utility customers each year.
Over the years, the current billing system has become costly and difficult to maintain, needing multiple upgrades and customizations to meet the unique needs of a wholesale power and transmission supplier. For this reason, the Customer Billing Center Replacement is an essential project under BPA’s Grid Modernization Key Strategic Initiative that will ensure a crucial cog keeps BPA’s business running smoothly. What’s more, as BPA considers whether to join the Western Energy Imbalance Market in March 2022, the agency’s billing system must be able to keep up with new rate case and tariff changes in addition to charges and payments to customers for EIM transactions.
The March 2022 timeline also marks when BPA will lose vendor support for its current billing system. A team that includes members from Customer Billing, Information Technology and the Business Transformation Office is making way for a modern system named PowerOptix.
“The new system will increase efficiency, streamline the billing process and support new EIM charge code allocation billing,” said Misty Meyer, product owner for Customer Billing. “I am excited about the system’s added functionality and automation as our current billing system is over 10 years old, and technology has advanced so much since then.”
With a new vendor providing support, the implementation of the new billing system will lead to several beneficial changes for BPA and its customers, including added automated processes that remove manual calculations and improve billing efficiency. The new system will also reduce the IT costs associated with maintaining an older, highly customized system. And by expanding the agency’s billing capabilities, the new system would provide a smooth transition to support EIM transactions.
BPA will use the same vendor and system being implemented for billing to simultaneously manage BPA’s revenue meter data. Through the Agency Metering System Replacement project, another grid modernization effort, BPA is overhauling its retrieval and organization of metering data. Consolidating billing and metering under one system will expedite the transfer of meter data between the Metering Services and Customer Billing teams. Ultimately, working within the PowerOptix system will streamline business processes, eliminate data discrepancies and provide enhanced visibility between work groups.
“Despite many changes taking place behind the scenes, BPA’s utility customers should expect only minimal changes to their future billing statements,” said Henry Tieu, the project’s lead sponsor and supervisor for Customer Billing. “Timely and accurate invoices will arrive in their current format and at the same desired time each month.”
Customers will still be able to find their bills either online through the Agency Enterprise Portal, a single access point that will replace the existing Customer Portal, or via email. One notable change is that customers will begin to receive bills from a single automated email address, reducing the time spent manually emailing bills. Revenue analyst contact information will remain in invoice statements for customers who need assistance with their bills.
Another notable change is that customers will receive only one monthly bill of each type instead of multiple invoices with different statuses. In other words, customers will no longer receive estimates followed by final and revised bills. Should customers need any revisions to a past bill, Customer Billing will add prior period adjustments to the next bill instead of sending out revised invoices. With revised bills eliminated, the number of prior period adjustments on a single bill may increase, but their format will remain the same. Prior period adjustments are the industry standard for EIM settlements and for other regional electric utilities, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority.
If BPA decides to join the EIM, customers will receive separate monthly bills for EIM settlements charges and credits in addition to the bills they currently receive.
The Customer Billing Center Replacement Project team is currently configuring and testing the new billing system. BPA will continue to communicate any changes to bills produced by the future system via inserts included with the current monthly bills. BPA will also provide separate training on the new Agency Enterprise Portal and additional information regarding the metering systems updates to ensure a smooth transition.
The Customer Billing Center Replacement is one of several grid modernization projects that support the implementation of BPA's strategic goals to modernize federal power and transmission system operations and supporting technology, and to provide competitive power and transmission products and services. To learn more about the portfolio of projects, click here. To see all that's happening with grid modernization, click here.