Smart meter cost may double
$3 to $4 more on electricity bills
Not yet policy, province cautions
Toronto Star - Jan 27, 2005
by John Spears and Richard Brennan
Ontario householders can expect to pay an additional $3 to $4 a month for
electricity to cover the cost of installing and running new "smart meters"
throughout the province, the Ontario Energy Board says.
The OEB has released a $1 billion implementation plan to meet Ontario Energy
Minister Dwight Duncan's promise to install a smart meter in every home
and business in the province by 2010.
The meters will enable utilities to charge even more for electricity used
during peak periods, when the power grid is under stress.
An official in Duncan's office cautioned that the report isn't yet government policy.
"The government is going to be reviewing the OEB's plans and
recommendations and will be considering them but we will be announcing our
own plan," said Angie Robson, communications assistant to Duncan, who was
in New York yesterday and unavailable for comment.
The monthly costs are far higher than the previous estimates of a dollar
or two a month for the smart meters, but Robson emphasized that the
savings people could realize by using these meters could easily offset the monthly fee.
"That $3 and $4 doesn't incorporate potential offsetting savings resulting
from people shifting their use to off-peak times," she said. "We want to
empower consumers to better manage their electricity use and consumption."
New Democratic Party
leader Howard Hampton said the plan will do little to
cut power consumption, but will have one unpleasant effect.
"It's going to substantially increase people's electricity bills," he
said. "There are a lot of people, a lot of businesses and some industries
in the province that can't afford it."
Conventional meters simply record the total amount of power used between
readings, taken every month or two.
Smart meters record power use hour by hour, so customers can be charged a
high rate during the peak evening hours, but a lower rate overnight or on
weekends when demand for electricity declines.
The board says local utilities should be able to choose their own meters
and supporting systems from the variety on the market. Some send
information to the utility by radio signal, others over a phone line.
The energy board said consumers should be able to see each day's
electricity use within 24 hours via telephone or Internet, so they can
monitor consumption and cost.
The energy board's plan has one big gap: It doesn't look at the
possibility of installing individual meters for each unit of apartment or
condominium buildings that now have a single meter for the entire building.
Duncan has said installing individual meters for each apartment and condo
unit in the province would boost the number of meters to about 6 million
from 4 million — boosting the cost of the meters alone by another $500 million.
Critics said the plan will hit the poor hardest — they are the most likely
to heat their dwellings with electricity, and are most vulnerable to increased power costs.
Keith Stewart of the Low Income Energy Network also noted that the
communication systems utilities will install to monitor the new meters
will make it easier for them to cut off service to people who fall behind
in their payments.
Tom Adams of Energy Probe
noted that, under the energy board plan,
utilities will be able to charge customers for the computer and
communications systems needed to run the smart meters even before all
customers get the meters.
"Most customers will be paying smart metering costs even before they get
smart meters," he said.
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