Smart meters are making it possible for BC Hydro to cut power to non-paying customers with the click of a button, and the utility is doing it tens of thousands of times more often than before.

Add that to the increasing rates and you have a recipe for disaster for low-income people who are already having trouble making ends meet, said Sarah Khan of the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which unearthed the figures.

“They’ve now been able to disconnect people much more easily just by the flip of a switch and the number of disconnections has increased dramatically,” Khan said.

“A lot of them are not able to reconnect and they’re losing service, and it’s causing people hardship,” Khan said.

According to BC Hydro figures, 4,995 people were cut off in 2013.

But in 2014 that figure rose dramatically to 20,940. By last year, 30,283 people had been cut off – more than 6 times the previous rate.

Simi Heer from BC Hydro told CTV News that it’s a sign the taxpayer-owned corporation has become more efficient.

“With our new system and new meters we’ve been able to realize a ton of operational efficiencies, and this is one advantage of them,” she said.

She said reconnections are also as easily done, and can be automatic if a customer repays a bill. The company has also dropped its reconnection fee from $125 to $30 to reflect that it’s more easily done.

In the filings, the utility claims 54.5 per cent of accounts disconnected for non-payment were reconnected the same day, and 84 per cent within the same week.

BC Hydro announced in 2013 it would raise rates by 28 per cent over five years.

NDP critic Adrian Dix said the number of disconnection notices has doubled – a sign that twice as many people are having trouble with higher rates.

But whereas BC Hydro would act on only a fraction of those disconnection notices, it is now acting on all of them, he said.

“Six times as many people have been cut off. Twice as many people are in a position to be cut off,” Dix said. “What you’re seeing is more and more people are having more and more trouble paying for power.”

He said Hydro is under pressure to recoup funds because it has to pay dividends to the province, and it has to buy more expensive power from Independent Power Producers, thanks to contracts that set the price higher.

Earlier this year the energy and mines minister allowed mining companies to defer 75 per cent of their hydro bills for up to two years.

“If mining companies are having problems you can imagine what problems someone earning the minimum wage is having,” Dix said.

The BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre is proposing several changes to make electricity more affordable to low-income people, including a lower price for power and different customer service rules for people who meet Statistics Canada’s definition of low-income.