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Lessons Learned: Major Problems for Canada


13.  Lessons Learned: Major Problems for Canada

The  smart meters deployed by Toronto Hydro are becoming a laughing joke, but it's not so funny for consumers who are stuck with higher bills and finding no increased energy savings.  Read the latest news story on this failed mandatory experiment imposed on consumers there:

680 News All News Radio: "NDP, Tories complain smart hydro meters end up costing consumers more," March 7, 2011, http://www.680news.com/news/local/article/194055--ndp-tories-complain-smart-hydro-meters-end-up-costing-consumers-more

A survey done earlier by Toronto Hydro showed about 80 per cent of people using smart meters are seeing increases, not decreases on their bills.
  Ontario, Canada has already rolled out wireless smart meters, while British Columbia, is still in the early stages.  For a good primer about the problems reported and concerns, read:

Nelson Life: "Not-so-smart meters — one more wireless health hazard," Oct. 2, 2010, http://nelsonlife.com/2010/10/02/not-so-smart-meters-one-more-wireless-health-hazard/1001062.html

Here are other stories related to the billing and interference problems that residents in Ontario, Canada, and the problems with off-peak and Time-Of-Use rate schemes.  Ontario may want to instead learn from Australia's lessons and consumer there should demand another type of rate scheme.

Reports of appliance malfunctions and enormously higher bills due to the installations of smart meters:

I've heard dozens of Hydro horror stories from people whose electricity bills suddenly went crazy. Some had malfunctioning meters; some had malfunctioning appliances; most had never had to think about their electricity use before.

And they all had one thing in common: Their monthly bills didn't make sense.

Meet Charlie and Pat Appleman. Their friends know that when they do something, they do it right, so when the Port Hope couple bought a 1970s-era bungalow in the country five years ago, they set out to make it as energy-efficient as they could.

They installed new doors and windows, re-insulated; made sure their appliances were relatively new. They used the two fireplace inserts and found they could heat the whole place with wood. They upgraded their hot water tank. The icing on the cake: The $17,000 thermal heating system they put in last year to take advantage of large government grants. They felt they'd done everything they could to conserve energy.

For awhile, everything was fine. Away from the house 10 to 12 hours a day, they found their monthly electricity bill chugged along in the $100 range, spiking higher in cold weather. Even when a smart meter was installed -- the start of trouble for some Ontarians lately -- nothing changed.

'CRAZY BILL'

Then, in January last year, they got what Charlie calls "the first crazy bill" -- for $749.04.

Toronto Sun: The hydro smart meter that apparently couldn't count, January 10, 2010, http://www.torontosun.com/comment/columnists/connie_woodcock/2010/01/10/12408771-sun.html

CTV has produced a very good three-part news report on the true costs and benefits of smart meters and the smart grid.  In Part One, "Smart Meters: A Way to Save or a Waste of Money?", CTV reports:

By the end of 2010 all utilities in Ontario must have smart meters installed and running, but residents who already have them aren't finding any savings.

...in places where the system is already up and running, people don't seem to be taking advantage of off-peak pricing, and they're paying the price.

Retiree Martin Bjarnason is a Toronto Hydro customer. He's among the 80 per cent, according to a study by the utility, who have seen their bills go up since the introduction of ‘smart' technology.

Bjarnason says he was paying around $250 before the meters were installed, but his most recent bill was close to $600. When he saw it, "I screamed" he says.

Widespread cases like this one have prompted the Ontario government to change the off-peak times.

As of May 2011, cheaper electricity will now begin to flow at 7:00 p.m. during the week, instead of 9:00 p.m.

That's just in time for resident in Southwestern Ontario.

Coming up in Part Two: Why smart meters don't seem to be saving money, or electricity, and who's expected to be hit the hardest.

Source: CTV: "Part One: Smart meters: A way to save or a waste or money?" November 23, 2010.  To read and watch Part One of the 3-part report, go on-line here: http://swo.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20101123/price-of-power-one-101123/20101123/?hub=SWOHome

In Part Two, "Hydro bills to rise for those who can't shift usage," CTV provides real-world examples of the fears that consumer advocates in the U.S. had about pricing schemes negatively affecting  vulnerable populations, including small businesses, and retirees/seniors:

In Toronto, 80 per cent of customers with active meters are reportedly paying more, a statistic that has caused a lot of alarm and put the provincial government in damage control mode.

At the Mon Ami Pizza Café in downtown Kitchener, the owners are still waiting for their first ‘smart' hydro bill, and like other business-owners they're worried about it.

Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says "Many businesses find it hard to shift their load. If you're a pizza restaurant, you can't really cook pizzas in the middle of the night to save electricity costs and I think that sometimes gets forgotten."

Smart meters will benefit those who can choose to use electricity in the evenings and on weekends, not those who must use it during the week, like many seniors.

Julie Girvan handles energy issues for the Consumer's Council of Canada and she says "That's a very significant factor and I think the government should have looked at that. There are seniors that are at home during the day and there's nothing they can do about shifting their load."

That's exactly the problem for retiree Jane Corry. She lives Toronto where time-of-use pricing is already in effect and she says "My hydro bill from August 2009 to August 2010 has gone up $105."

Girvan adds that people may also be shifting their usage and still not seeing any savings as the cost of energy goes up across the board.

...On Tuesday, the Ontario government released its $87 billion, 20-year energy plan, which will see hydro rates rise 50 per cent over five years. Recently the HST also pushed bills up.

Nonetheless, the McGuinty government sold smart meters as a way for consumers to save money in an increasingly expensive electricity market.

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan says time-of-use meters do save people money, and he calls the current increase in costs "a short term phenomena, because they're just putting the meters in. Once that's paid for, then they start to see the savings."

Kitchener Wilmot Hydro President and CEO Jerry Van Ooteghem says it will likely take six or seven years to recover the cost of the investment.

In an attempt to ease the burden on consumers the Ontario government has instituted a 10 per cent discount on energy bills for five years, but it's unclear how helpful that will be. The cost or energy is expected to rise more than four times that amount in the same period.

Source: CTV: "Part Two: Hydro bills to rise for those who can't shift usage," November, 24, 2010.  To read and watch Part Two of the 3-part report, go on-line here:  http://swo.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20101124/price-of-power-two-101124/20101124/?hub=SWOHome

Then in Part Three, "Green energy, smart meters drive up hydro costs," CTV breaks down how much this new smart grid technology will cost the average residential consumer as reflected in their utility bills, taking into account the 10% discount on energy bills for five years that the utility company has decided to offer to offset the rise in bills:

The average Kitchener Wilmot Hydro customer using 800 kilowatt hours of electricity each month will see their bill change dramatically over the next five years:
  • Currently the customer would be paying about $104.39
  • By Jan. 1, 2011 it will drop to $93.95 with introduction of the 10 per cent rebate
  • By 2015, it will hit $150.89 with the 46 per cent rise and the end of the rebate
By 2015 that means the customer will be paying $1810.68 annually, or $552.00 more per year than right now.

Consumers are likely going to take a little more convincing about how the extra money is being spent.

The energy plan must still be approved by various energy agencies in Ontario, and that won't be until after the 2011 election.

So everyone in Ontario will have a say in whether they approve of the provincial plan when it comes time to vote.

Source: CTV, "Part Three: Green energy, smart meters drive up hydro costs," November 25, 2010.  To read and watch Part Three of the 3-part report, go on-line here: http://swo.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20101125/hydro-bills-rising-three-101125/20101125/?hub=SWOHome


Complaints about billing problems continue, with the Toronto Star newspaper finding five Ontario utilities overbilled 150,000 customers who have installed smart meters -- not due to faulty meters most, but Time-of-Use (TOU) billing:

The Toronto Star reported five Ontario utilities, including Horizon, are overbilling 150,000 customers who have installed smart meters.

At the heart of the dispute is a ruling by Measurement Canada that hydro bills based on measurements between two points in time don't meet federal requirements because they don't also show readings from a meter. Smart meters register not only how much power was used, but when it was used to encourage shifting to off-peak times of the day when demand in the province is lower.

"This is not a metering issue, it's a question of how customers are being billed," said Shelley Parker, Horizon's director of customer services. "You can't really compare the two methods."

Parker explained smart meters measure hydro use between midnight and midnight, allowing the utility to charge different prices depending on time of use. Traditional meters simply record how much power is used between two readings.

While time-of-use billing is said to have environmental benefits by encouraging power use when demand is lower, Measurement Canada has ordered utilities to also show traditional register readings on its bills by January 2012. Ontario utilities have formed a special group to work with the province's Independent Electricity System Operator to meet that deadline.

Source: The Electricity Forum, "Horizon disputes overbilling claims," August 2010, http://www.electricityforum.com/news/aug10/Horizondisputesoverbillingclaims.html


Read about utility cost and interference problems from smart meters: Austin Wright for Mayor 2010: "Hydro Costs Poised to Rocket," September 30, 2010, http://www.ckon.ca/wordpress/index.php?p=61

And here are more stories about the interference problems the wireless smart meters are causing:

Chatham This Week, "Smart meters becoming a big problem," http://www.chathamthisweek.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=1927175

The Maple City Star, "Smart Meters Could Waste Millions," July 4, 2007, http://www.maplecitystar.ca/archive.php?article=20070704-smartmeters.html

VENC3Q: "Smart Meter Interference: Assessment of Chatham-Kent Hydro Smart Meter Implementation," http://www.ve3ncq.ca/wordpress/?page_id=10

Chatham This Week: "Smart Meters aren't that smart, Chatham man says," http://www.chathamthisweek.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=1927152

Forum: "If you have a 900 MHZ SM and connection problems (smart meters related)," http://www.xplornetsucks.com/forums/archive/index.php?t-1083.html



Alberta Takes More Cautious Approach

Meanwhile, in Alberta, officials and residents there are doubting the consumer benefits of adopting the costly technology after seeing what's happened in Ontario, and are taking a slower and more cautious approach:

"This is a real good idea, but it has gone astray," said Sheldon Fulton, a consultant who studied the issue for the central Alberta and South Alberta Rural Electrification Associations. "The concept is valid but the implementation is just bizarre. It's not consistent with achieving the objective."

Fulton said what other jurisdictions are doing won't work in Alberta because of the electrical system and largely rural-based population.

Alberta doesn't have the peak load problem other jurisdictions have because its large industrial users already have time-of-use metering that enables them to shift their load to off-peak hours when necessary, said Fulton, who is also executive director of the Industrial Power Consumers Association of Alberta.

CONSUMERS ON HOOK FOR $1B

He said the savings will likely only be a couple of bucks a month and the cost of implementing the system -- which he estimated at $1 to $1.5 billion -- will be borne entirely by consumers on their electricity bills.

"We're talking $1 billion to $1.5 billion to implement, but that's only spread out between commercial and residential consumers," he said.

While the cost to install the meters is estimated to be about $800 per unit in urban centres, it could run as high as $10,000 in rural areas, he said.

Pat Bourne, general manager of the central Alberta Rural Electrification Association, said there would be no benefit to installing the system for the association's 8,300 members.

"Basically, if the benefits exceeded the cost or even equalled the cost, it would be different, but they don't," she said. "There is nothing wrong with being on the leading edge, but the bleeding edge -- Albertans don't want to be there."

...Epcor claims the metering will provide increased reliability, lower operating costs, improved planning and will reduce overall outage times. Epcor spokesman Tim LeRiche said it will also improve customer service and increase consumer awareness of their own electricity usage.

But studies have suggested the meters aren't the big savings generators some have held them out to be. In Ontario, where the cost of the meters adds about $4 a month to utility bills, a Toronto Hydro pilot program showed the utility bills of more than 70 per cent of the consumers actually increased up to $3 a month. For the 27 per cent who saw their bills drop, the average decrease was 29 cents per month.

University of Alberta energy economist Andrew Leach said people who volunteer for pilot projects are likely motivated to find savings, and if they can save only a few cents, less-interested consumers may not see any benefit.

"When you weigh out the costs of all the new technology, especially in a deregulated power market, I don't really see that you are going to reap huge rewards from it."

Source: Edmonton Journal: "Benefit of smart meters in doubt; Tiny savings after huge cash outlay," May 22, 2010, http://www2.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/cityplus_alberta/story.html?id=5c9c515b-75f0-43ed-a0d5-a900f84bed67


Helpful Websites for Concerned Canadians

Canadian residents reporting health and other problems from their wireless meters can find more stories and reports by visiting these websites :
  • Katharina Gustavs, Building Biology Environmental Consultant (IBN) , Rainbow Consulting in Sooke, BC: www.buildingbiology.ca

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DISCUSSION OF MAIN CONCERNS: Read these and helpful information about the wireless smart meter issue -- click each of the discussion items below. 

1.  First and Foremost: Are Wireless Meters Mandatory?

2.  Smart Meters Unite Consumers, Citizens and Residents from Opposite Backgrounds and Political Affiliations

3.  Actions Being Taken: What Are Consumers Doing To Protect Their Civil Liberties and Affirm Their Rights to Refuse or Opt Out?

4.  Going Deep: Understanding the Big Picture and Real Costs and Concerns, Helpful News Reports and Consumer Advocacy Reports and Analysis

5.  Smart Meter Consumers Anger Grows Over Higher Utility Bills

6.  Privacy and Security Concerns Still Unresolved

7.  Health Concerns Grow: Consumers Are Getting Sick From Wireless Smart Meters

8.  Consumers Report Public Safety Hazards and Interference Problems

9. Cities and States Outside of California Pull Back

10. Resident Campaigns In Other States

11. Options

12. Lessons Learned: What's Happened in Australia

13. Lessons Learned: Major Problems for Canada

14. Actions You Can Take & Other Helpful Organizations and Websites






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