David Waterhouse lives in Victoria, B.C. and pays an extra $420 a year to B.C. Hydro on top of his electricity bill in order not to have a smart meter installed in his house.
He likes his old analog meter and believes smart meters aren’t accurate, and that there are privacy issues with the information they gather. He also feels there is a health risk from the high frequency radio waves they emit while sending information to your utility.
“There are many reasons why (smart meters) can malfunction, even for a short period of time,” Waterhouse wrote. “Hydro refuses to acknowledge that fact for fear the flood gates would open.”
Waterhouse read last week’s column about Hydro Ottawa customer Marilee Pott and her $748 bill. Pott’s winter bill doubled for reasons she can’t explain. Hydro Ottawa has checked her meter and says its fine, so the fault must lie inside her house.
You can’t opt out of smart meters in Ontario. In the past six years, these devices that record your electricity use and relay it to your utility have been installed in every Ontario home where they can be, at a cost of $1 billion. But many people don’t trust them any more than Waterhouse does.
Utilities have done a poor job of selling the benefits and slow to respond to their critics. One benefit is time-of-use billing, which encourages conservation by charging less for off-peak use. You can also go online and check your usage. Utilities can react more quickly to power outages.
Beckie Codd-Downey, a press secretary to Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, says the meters are a vital upgrade that modernizes “our outdated, inefficient energy infrastructure.”
So why are people so suspicious?
Hydro One’s billing problems, for one. Hydro One is Ontario’s largest electricity company and this winter about 65,000 customers received estimated winter bills, didn’t get any bill for 90 days or more, or received a handful of bills at once. This prompted provincial Ombud Andre Marin to take a closer look.
Several readers suggest that this is exactly where problems lie, not with the meter itself.
“The trouble is that even if the meters are 99.9 per cent accurate, that doesn’t mean that the systems handling them are,” said a reader who works in the energy industry.
So here are a few questions answered about smart meters:
Why should we trust them?
The utilities say they are tried and true and the new ones meet higher accuracy standards than the old ones. There is a solid state device that reads the meter and a radio that lets the meter send the information on.
“In six years they have shown to be 99.9 per cent accurate,” says Nancy Shaddick, a spokesman for Hydro One.
She says the meters go through three levels of testing. Manufacturers submit their products to Measurement Canada for testing. (Measurement Canada is part of Industry Canada and its job is to ensure gas and electric meters are accurate.)
After Measurement Canada’s okay, Hydro One tests them again before introducing them. Thereafter, the utility continuously samples installed meters for accuracy.
Should we trust smart meter software?
The utilities say of course, but don’t look to Measurement Canada for any confirmation.
It only verifies the accuracy of the meter, not the systems that transmit the data and create a bill. Michael Cimpaye, an Industry Canada spokesman, says if there’s a difference between what the meter reads and what the software sends the utility, they trust the meter.
Has the investment in smart meters led to energy conservation?
Codd-Downey says a study conducted by Newmarket Hydro found the meters helped customers reduce their on-peak consumption by an average 3 per cent, enough to take 1,000 homes off the grid.
An Ontario Energy Board study found on time-of-use pricing helped reduced the province’s on-peak demand by 3.3 per cent.
Are smart meters a health risk?
Absolutely not, says Codd-Downey. She says smart meters are considered safe by Health Canada and emit a fraction of the radio waves of cell phones and microwave ovens. They transmit for a few seconds a day. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have also found no evidence linking them to health problems.