Hydro smart meters here in a month

Corp. says smart meters will save money, MLA questions that.

BC Hydro deputy project officer Fiona Taylor says corporation will be more efficient.

They’re coming to your house, whether you like it or not.

About 38,000 smart meters are about to be installed in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, starting in December and finishing early in the new year.

And like the 250,000 B.C. residents who already have smart meters installed in their homes, once people learn a little about them, 99 per cent are OK with the idea, said Fiona Taylor, deputy project officer.

Taylor and two Hydro public relations staff were in Maple Ridge on Thursday for MLA Michael Sather’s information evening on the project.

Sather held the meeting at St. Andrews Haney United Church and invited a university professor and questioned Hydro’s business case for the $930-million project.

Hydro estimates it will save $1.6 billion over 20 years by installing the meters. That savings will come from being able to identify electricity theft, monitoring power outages, saving energy and reducing demand, by allowing customers to track their own consumption. That will be possible by April, when a web portal will give each customer access to the data.

Taylor compared the current system to filling up your car’s gas tank, then getting a bill for it after two months.

With real-time information on energy consumption, Hydro will be able to plan its physical assets and energy production more closely to real needs rather than over-estimating possible demand.

However, once a smart meter’s installed, most customers only have to do nothing. Billing amounts shouldn’t increase because the old meters are still relatively accurate compared to the smart meters. A switch to smart meters in California saw bills jump because the old meters weren’t properly recording consumption, she pointed out.

The new smart meters will use wireless technology and send out data three times a day, for a total of less than a minute, to B.C. Hydro.

Should customers wish, they can buy a wireless reader and have the data visible inside their homes. Hydro, though, has to be contacted to provide a secure connection.

Taylor said the measures are expected to save up to $70 million in the first three years.

“There’s no plan to introduce time-of-use rates,” Taylor added.

That measure is used when a utility company has a shortage of capacity, but Hydro isn’t facing that scenario, she said.

“We are not introducing any kind of time-based rates because we don’t have a business case to do so.”

Electricity bills for some homes with smart meters in Ontario climbed because they were introduced during a heat wave, with a blunt time-of-use rate, she added.

Taylor said if people have concerns about the installation of a smart meter, they’ll hold the work order until the customer has been contacted.

Corix, the company that’s installing the meters, should arrive in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows in late  December.

Before they do however, each customer will get a letter explaining the process. Exchanging meters will take about 10 minutes and involve a power outage of a minute. Access to the home isn’t needed.

“There is quite a lot of misinformation out there. What we’re very open to doing is talking to customers.”

Taylor said the electromagnetic frequency emitted from the smart meters over a period of 20 years equates to a 30-minute conversation on a cellphone.

Customer identification and consumption use are not matched until it reaches the data centre. The meters won’t pinpoint the sources of consumption in each house.

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