Do smart meters make cents?
Within a couple of years, smart meters will be on every home. Program leaders say the new smart meters are to existing hydro meters like a windup watch is to a smartphone.
That state-of-the-art technology comes with a big price tag, just under a billion dollars. But BC Hydro believes it can recover those costs internally and then pass on additional savings to customers.
"We expect $145 to $450 per customer per year," said Fiona Taylor, the director of smart metering for BC Hydro.
Critics like Jim Quail, from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, fear bills will go up.
"I would take any claims from BC Hydro about offsetting savings with a big grain of salt," he said.
"This is a totally needless imposition of costs, it's going to add several per cent – six, seven, eight per cent by itself on people's hydro bills."
In Ontario, where smart meters are already in a million homes -- more than two-thirds of those customers are paying more every month -- only about a third are paying less. The Ontario government is considering changes to the program and how it charges consumers different rates based on when they use electricity. The so-called ‘time of use' rates don't really reduce how much electricity is used, just when you use it.
BC Hydro has been watching the roll out of smart meters programs in other jurisdictions with interest. It is developing a system that if approved by the BC Utilities Commission, would let consumers choose their rate structure.
"We do not need to make ‘time of use' rates mandatory to get the benefits in B.C.," Taylor said.
"The lesson for us is to really make sure that we perhaps have a number of different rates that customers can choose from that works for them," she said.
The final decision on rates and a rate structure for smart meters is up to the BC Utilities Commission, not BC Hydro. But Hydro likes the idea of giving you choices.
"The plan is to be able to offer consumers choices around rates," Taylor said.
Being able to individually choose between two different systems would be a benefit to consumers. Those who can wash dishes, or do laundry and cook late at night could benefit from much lower rates. And those of us who still need to cook, clean and consume energy at peak times -- like dinner time -- wouldn't be punished.
On Tuesday, a BC Hydro customer weighs in about her real life experience with a smart meter.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Chris Olsen