Those newly-install hydro smart meters aren’t going anywhere no matter who wins the provincial election, despite Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s promise to unplug them.
Residents in Waterloo Region shouldn’t expect to see Waterloo North Hydro employees at their front doors on Oct. 7 should the Conservatives unseat Dalton McGuinty’s government, according to the utility’s president and CEO.
“You aren’t going to unplug the smart meters because they’re here to stay,” said Rene Gatien.
“The old meters are all gone.”
Instead, it’s the time-of-use pricing that could get the axe under a Hudak-led government.
The utility company began implementing the time-of-use billing in July, having installed residential smart meters for about 46,000 customers in the region at a cost of $8.5 million.
That expenditure will be borne by the customers as they repay it over the next 15 years.
As of last year, the installation of smart meters on Ontario homes and businesses had surpassed $994 million across the entire province, according to a Mar. 3 Ontario Energy Board report, and more than 4.3 million meters had been installed at that time (94 per cent of the total).
“The smart meters and all the communication technology is all installed, and customers are going to pay for that over time just like they would if we built a new pole line or underground cable – that’s part of our infrastructure now,” said Gatien.
During the summer, electricity consumed during mid-peak hours between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. will cost 8.9 cents per kWh, while on-peak hours, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., will cost 10.7 cents.
During the winter mid-peak hours switch to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. while on-peak will be set during the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Weekends year-round are considered off-peak hours and the goal of the program is to give consumers more control over their energy consumption and their monthly hydro bills.
The PC party has called the Liberal program a tax-grab, one that forces residents and businesses to use electricity when is least convenient for them by penalizing those who cannot do their laundry or take showers outside of the non-peak hours.
Prior to the smart meter program, Waterloo North Hydro charged an average of 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour for energy consumption.
Gatien said the motivation behind the smart meter program was to get customers to conserve energy used during the peak times of the day when it is in highest demand.
But according to their numbers, customers don’t seem to be getting the message.
By comparing total energy delivered to households under the old system and the new one, he said that about 25 per cent of customers have seen a reduction in their monthly bills, while about 65 per cent have seen an increase, based on a comparison of energy usage this year over last.
“In general there is a larger group who […] haven’t been able to do some things with energy efficiency like closing the curtains during the day or turning their air conditioner temperatures higher during the day,” Gatien said.
Under the PC platform, Tim Hudak would make opting into the time-of-use program optional for households and businesses across the province, but the utility has some concerns with that plan.
When Waterloo North Hydro switched over to smart meter technology, they had to update all of their computer software in the process to the tune of about $350,000. Should time-of-use billing become optional, the system would again have to be changed to permit both methods, which would translate into extra costs for the consumer.
Gatien is also concerned that customers would make a game out of the system by opting in and out, based on the cheapest options of the day. That switching would mean more costs, he said, and would have to be borne by the entire customer base.
“We can certainly do whatever the governments direct us to do, as long as they understand sometimes it will cost the customers more in the long run. That’s the hard part,” he said.