Posted on 23 May 2012 by Keith Lacey
Town of Osoyoos council is going to have to decide in the next few weeks whether to endorse a proposal to bring “smart meters” to this town or decide to “opt out” as some other British Columbia communities have done.
A third option would be to insist the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project being proposed by FortisBC for its 162,000 electricity clients include meters which would clearly identify the time of day when electricity costs are at their lowest so consumers would better plan when to use hydro in order to save money.
Because FortisBC is the only hydro provider to the Town of Osoyoos and outlying communities, this is an important issue that must be talked about at length before a final decision is made, said Mayor Stu Wells.
Bob Gibney, senior manager of corporate services and aboriginal affairs for FortisBC, made a presentation to town council Tuesday morning, detailing why smart meters are a good option for consumers and property owners, while at the same time asking council for a letter of support to bring the meters to this community.
“You would be the first municipality in the province to show official support,” said Gibney near the end of his presentation.
If council decides to opt out, a letter to the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) would still be appreciated as it would send a clear message about the concerns municipalities have regarding smart meters, said Gibney.
Wells said on several occasions that when former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell first started talking about bringing smart meters to B.C. there was a clear indication the meters would allow users to determine which time of day it was best to consume electricity in order to save money.
Gibney’s presentation indicates to him these new meters are simply a way of more accurately detailing power usage, but don’t have the time of day component the majority of consumers would love to have, said Wells.
“Why have them if it’s (a meter) only used as a read out?” asked Wells.
Gibney responded that he agrees the meters should provide a choice on when to most efficiently use power, but the model being proposed by FortisBC doesn’t have that option.
However, Gibney insisted smart meters will help consumers save energy and money because they are far more efficient and accurate than current meters being used by the public utility.
The cost savings that would be achieved by installing smart meters to its 162,000 clients would be more than the $47-million pricetag forecast to pay for the meters, said Gibney.
“The meters would be free of charge,” he said. “They wouldn’t cost a penny.”
Installing smart meters would save money as few meter readers would need to be employed by FortisBC and would quickly and efficiently identify people who are abusing the system and stealing electricity, which costs the company $5 million annually, he said.
When a smart meter malfunctions, staff know immediately and they can be replaced immediately, which is another benefit, he said.
“Currently, if the power goes out, we don’t know about it until calls come in,” he said. “With these new meters, we can send out crews right away once we know the meters aren’t working or getting a signal.”
All information used by FortisBC relating to smart meters would be protected under provincial privacy legislation and property owners will like that fact meter readers won’t have to access their property nearly as much as they currently do, he said.
The current billing system is based on monthly estimates based on usage from previous years and that would be eliminated as the smart meters provide extremely accurate usage and billing information, he said.
There would also be a positive environmental aspect to installing smart meters as there would be fewer company vehicles on the road and fewer greenhouse gas emissions as a result, said Gibney.
While electricity rates won’t be reduced as a result of installing smart meters, FortisBC is committed to lowering annual rate increases as a result of the significant cost savings, he said.
Because FortisBC is a public utility company, none of the proposals to install smart meters can move forward without a full regulatory process that must be approved by the BCUC, he said.
“There’s no doubt there will be full public hearings,” he said.
Under a best-case scenario, Gibney said FortisBC would like to start installing smart meters to its clients across the province in the spring of 2014 and have them all installed before the end of 2015.
Wells said there are going to be many citizens “who don’t want this” and council is going to have to decide if an opt out clause should be considered for individual property owners.
Gibney said a letter of support that might include an opt out clause would still be appreciated as FortisBC is trying to move the regulatory process as quickly as possible.
From his experience in making similar presentations to municipal leaders and citizens across the province, Gibney said 15 per cent of the population are opposed to smart meters simply on principal, another 15 per cent are strongly in favour and 70 per cent are undecided and want more information before making a decision.
Wells told Gibney council will discuss this issue at length before making any final decision or sending any letter to the province supporting or rejecting smart meters.