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Tests show smart meters accurate, BC Hydro says

Cindy Verschoor, B.C. Hydro. -
Cindy Verschoor, B.C. Hydro.
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BC Hydro officials say it’s extremely unlikely that smart meters are driving up the power bills of some households this winter.

Smart meter program spokesperson Cindy Verschoor said testing has proven the new wireless meters to be extremely accurate.

“Last year we had 169 customers who were absolutely convinced their meters were not reading accurately,” she said, adding Hydro pulled them out and had them tested at Measurement Canada’s facility in Burnaby.

“Every single one of them came back as accurate.”

Anyone can request such a test and watch as it’s conducted – the homeowner has to pay $100 if it turns out to be accurate, while Hydro covers the cost if it’s outside the accepted one per cent margin of error.

In the last 18 months since smart meter installation began, Verschoor said, there have been six cases of smart meters malfunctioning, leading Hydro to adjust four bills downward and increase the other two.

“It’s extremely rare,” she said, noting 95 per cent of BC Hydro’s 1.9 million customers now have smart meters.

Verschoor spoke after Cloverdale’s Vernon Keller complained his bill doubled in the latest winter period now that he has a smart meter (“A Bad Case of Smart Meter Regret,” Feb. 7).

He said he’d go back to an analog meter if he could.

Keller said a friend with a camper plugged in to his home and while he doubted it could drive up his consumption dramatically, Hydro officials suggest it could.

Verschoor couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case.

But she said there are three main reasons why customers sometimes have received unexpectedly high bills.

Hydro is gradually switching households over to automated billing and only about half of smart meters are currently sending data wirelessly, while the other half of smart meters are still being ready manually.

Hydro estimates power consumption based on past use when staff can’t get to the meter, and that has led to large catch-up bills in some cases where a home used more power than it historically did.

“We had a lot of customers last year where the bill was underestimated and then they got a catchup bill,” Verschoor said.

Other customers may be on the equal payments plan but if they add more appliances or otherwise start using more power, they, too, may face a large catch-up bill later.

The third scenario, she said, is simple human error by Hydro staff reading the smart meter manually but transposing digits or otherwise entering the wrong data.

Hydro expects that problem will end once all smart meter data is sent wirelessly rather than via human readers.

Homes where automated billing is now in effect can sign in to their BC Hydro account online and see hour-by-hour power consumption.

Verschoor said a household can use the feature to compare how their power consumption changes when a space heater or other appliance is used.

A malfunctioning smart meter will alert Hydro, she added.

“The old meters, if they were broken we didn’t know unless there was something wrong with the customers’ bill.”

Asked if sharply higher bills could be a result of an old meter reading too low and now being replaced with an accurate smart meter, Verschoor said even the old meters were tested regularly.

“It’s not impossible but it’s fairly unlikely,” she said. “We were replacing about 40,000 meters a year because they weren’t meeting our requirements.”

The provincial government has said it won’t force the remaining five per cent of B.C. homes without smart meters to accept them against their will for at least the next few months.

It’s not clear what will happen to smart meter resisters if the BC Liberals win the May 14 election, but the NDP has said it would look to the B.C. Utilities Commission for guidance.

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