Backup Generators

Storms and extended power outages are part of living in our beautiful, heavily treed service territory. If you’re thinking of installing a backup generator, you’re in the right place. On this page, you will find information about:

  • Different types of backup generator systems
  • Safe installation of backup generators
  • What your Co-op requires
  • Other safety considerations

If you need a backup power source in case of an extended power outage, your Co-op is here to help you choose the right one. When it comes to generators, there are two main types:

Portable generators are typically gas or diesel-powered generators. These can be used to power a motorhome or an off-grid appliance. If you want to use one to power your home in case of emergency, you MUST have a transfer switch installed at your meter base by a qualified electrician. Your Co-op can help! (See below under “What’s a Transfer Switch?”).

Generator for emergency electric power. With internal combustion engine.

Standby generators are permanently installed home backups that run on natural gas or liquid propane. In an outage, these automatically turn on to provide power. They are wired through a transfer switch located at your meter. For fixed generators, wiring needs to be properly installed by a qualified electrical contractor. This is not a do-it yourself job and requires a special permit. (See below under “requirements.”)

Safe Installation of Backup Generators

If installed or used improperly, generators have the potential to electrocute lineworkers by back-feeding into the grid. All generators or power sources must have a transfer switch in order to be connected to your homes wiring system.

What’s a Transfer Switch?

A transfer switch is a device that breaks the connection between the grid and your home’s electrical wiring, and then reconnects your home’s electrical system to your backup power source. Some are operated manually. Others, like the ones in most fixed Standby generators, will sense when power is out and switch over automatically.

What is Backfeeding?

During a power outage, a backup generator that is not properly installed can unintentionally feed electricity back into the electric grid. Linemen working on your outage would expect the power line to be de-energized. They could potentially contact the line and be injured – or worse!

To avoid backfeeding, your Co-op requires the installation of a double-pole, double throw transfer-switch gear. (Want the technical details of what is required? Review Safe Installation of Standby Generators (PDF) or reach out to one of our Energy Advisors at the bottom of this page.) One version that meets our standards is the Generlink Transfer Switch, pictured below. Your Co-op’s staff can install this transfer switch so that dangerous backfeeding can be prevented.

Purchase a GenerLink Transfer Switch

GenerLink Transfer SwitchWith a GenerLink Transfer Switch, you can operate an emergency generator safely and protect lineworkers from dangerous backfeeds.

Installed behind your electric meter, the GenerLink delivers generator power directly to your breaker box. Members are responsible for the cost of the switch, which you can purchase locally, but the Co-op will install them for you at no cost. In fact, your Co-op requires that they be installed by Co-op staff. Once you purchase a switch, it will be shipped directly to the Co-op’s Metering Department and we will install it for you free of charge.

Before you purchase

  • Please note that the GenerLink Transfer Switch is only for Class 200 amp meter bases — Class 320 meter bases will not accept the GenerLink.
  • This information is on your bill (issued on or after July 1, 2024), under the heading “Meter Class” in the Current Service detail box.
  • Additionally, clearance issues or safety concerns may make a GenerLink a bad fit for your location, so an inspection from our Metering Department is required, even if your Meter Class is 200.

It’s always best to call us first before purchasing a switch. Reach out if you would like to schedule a site visit to verify that a GenerLink is right for you:

Get in Touch

Requirements

If you plan to use a portable generator as a backup power source:

  • The member is responsible for contacting our energy advisors prior to purchase.
  • The member is responsible for the purchase cost of the Generlink (or other approved transfer switch).
  • Your Co-op will install your Generlink transfer switch free of charge.

If you plan to install a fixed standby generator:

  • The member is responsible for contacting our energy advisors prior to purchase and installation – (see contact info at the bottom of this page)
  • The member is responsible for obtaining the correct permit from the Montana Building Codes Division (406) 841 2056.
  • Installation must have a transfer switch built in and wiring must be installed by a qualified electrical contractor.

Other Safety Considerations

  • Never operate a portable generator in an enclosed building! Fumes from burnt fuel can cause deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Make sure your generator has enough air to breathe and that its exhaust is vented properly.
  • Electricity and water don’t mix — do not use a portable generator in a flooded basement or any other wet place.
  • Make sure your hands are dry, and that you are standing in a dry place, whenever you operate your generator.
  • Ensure your generator is properly grounded.
  • Gasoline should be stored in approved containers and out of reach of children.
  • All flames or cigarettes should be extinguished when handling gasoline.
  • Have a fully charged, approved fire extinguisher located near the generator.
  • Never fuel a generator when the generator is running or is hot.
  • Always check the unit thoroughly each new season before you fire it up.
  • Never attempt to repair an electric generator. Only a qualified serviceman should perform repairs.
  • Don’t remove or tamper with safety devices; they are there to protect you and your property.
  • Many engine parts are very hot during operation and severe burns may result if touched.
  • Always keep children away from generators.

Call Us First!

If you’re thinking about purchasing a backup generator, please call one of our Energy Advisors listed below. Everyone’s home is different. We can help you determine what size generator you will need for your specific location and get you on the right path.