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Firms give tenants separate meters

Help landlords to transfer hydro costs
Advocates fear change could hurt poor

Toronto Star - December 15, 2004
by John Spears

A pair of technology companies have signed a deal to supply individual electricity meters to landlords of multi-unit buildings that now have only one bulk meter serving all tenants.

But a lobby group for people with low incomes is urging the province to go slow on clearing the way for the practice, known as "sub-metering," because it may have an effect opposite to the one intended.

Triacta Power Technologies Inc. and Stratacon Inc. have signed an agreement worth a minimum of $15 million over five years to provide sub-metering systems to apartment landlords. Their target is to install 1,000 systems a year, with an average of 20 individual meters per system.

Triacta, which manufactures the hardware, will supply it to Stratacon, said Triacta spokeswoman Jennifer Hassani. "What Stratacon is planning to do is install the meters at no cost to the landlord," she said in an interview. Stratacon will read the meters and bill the tenants. In addition to charging the regulated rate for power used by each tenant, it plans to charge a monthly fee that is a few dollars below the monthly fee now charged by local utilities for providing basic service. (Toronto Hydro, for example, charges a flat monthly fee of $14.03.)

Each new meter will be a "smart meter" capable of charging tenants different rates for power at different times of day — a key goal of the provincial Liberals.

Ontario has nearly 900,000 rental apartment units, most of which are in buildings with a single meter. Landlords generally average the electricity cost across all units and roll it into the monthly rent because they can't measure individual usage.

Changes will be required in provincial rent control laws to accommodate sub-metering. Triacta and Stratacon hope the required legislation will be passed, and their equipment cleared by Measurement Canada, by next summer. Mary Todorow of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario said the government should go slow on sub-metering.

She said in an interview that many tenants, especially those with low incomes, have little control over the big factors that determine energy use. "They don't control whether they have energy-efficient appliances," she said. Nor can they choose how energy efficient their windows are, or their building's heating system, she noted. Making tenants responsible for electricity costs, especially in buildings with electric heat, means that landlords have no incentive to make their buildings more energy efficient, she noted.

Rules are also needed if sub-metering moves ahead to make sure that landlords reduce rents in direct proportion to the amount that they've been charging tenants for electricity, she said.

The provincial government, which wants to install smart meters throughout the province by 2010, hasn't made a decision yet on sub-metering in rental apartment buildings.

"We're certainly looking at it," said Angie Robson, spokeswoman for Energy Minister Dwight Duncan.

She noted that the Ontario Energy Board recently released a draft policy on smart meters and is gathering comment on the issue.

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