BC Hydro's announcement earlier this month of the Meter Choices Program for customers who refuse to have a smart meter installed has one area resident charged up.
On Sept. 13 BC Hydro announced customers who have not had a smart meter installed can opt to keep a mechanical meter, but will be billed an additional $35 per month starting on Dec. 2. Hydro will maintain and replace the mechanical meters as long as parts are available, the utility's website said.
Hydro customers who already have a smart meter installed, or who still have a mechanical meter but are willing to get a smart meter, can opt to have the smart meter's radio function deactivated. Those customers must pay a one-time $100 set-up fee and an additional monthly fee of $20 beginning on April 1.
Beaverly resident Tom Moore said he knew and accepted there would be a cost to saying no to a smart meter, but he'd like to know why he will have to pay so much.
"I'd have no problem paying the $20, or even paying the $35, if they'd tell me why," Moore said. "I'm in a rural area, my meter doesn't get read once a month. I'm [going to be] paying $35 a month for my meter to be read once or twice a year. They estimate it the rest [of the year]."
He opted out of a having a smart meter for privacy reasons, he said, as well as safety concerns about the quality of the meters and training of the meter installers.
Moore said when he called BC Hydro to ask how the $35 per month fee was decided - and why the $35 fee begins in December, while the $20 fee for radio-deactivated smart metres begins in April - he didn't receive any answers. However, he was told the fees would be reviewed by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
"I have no complaint process. There is no recourse," Moore said. "It just seems everything is designed to push people to the smart meters."
Moore said if he doesn't get an answer to his satisfaction, he plans to save his bills for the next year and take BC Hydro to small claims court to demand answers.
"If they won't tell me, they'll have to tell a judge," he said. "I understand there is a cost to saying no [to a smart meter]. What I have an issue with is how they came up with the numbers."
In an email, BC Hydro Smart Meter Program spokesperson Greg Alexis said the fees are intended to offset the costs of maintaining older meters which are, "increasingly obsolete and costly to support."
"The decision to charge cost-recovery fees for customers who dont want smart meters ensures the rest of BC Hydros customers arent subsidizing the personal choices of a very small number of people," Alexis said. "The additional fees include more than just reading the meter. They also include the cost of adding and maintaining resources, equipment and systems that have been automated by new, modern meters."
Extra vehicles, equipment, staff and telecommunications equipment is needed to manually read the mechanical meters and input the data, he said. Currently over 1.8 million smart meters have been installed in homes and businesses across the province.
"BC Hydros proposed fees will be reviewed by B.C. Utilities Commission to ensure they are appropriate and we are only recovering additional costs. We will be filing a detailed application with the BCUC in the coming weeks," Alexis said.
Cost recovery fees to opt out of smart metering programs have been used in other jurisdictions in North America, he added.
Portland General Electric charges a one-time fee of $254 and a monthly fee of $51 for customers who opt out. Hydro Quebec charges a one-time fee of $98, with a $17 monthly additional fee.
"It's worth noting that when the B.C. Utilities Commission approved Fortis BCs advanced metering project earlier this summer, the Commission directed Fortis to charge a fee to customers who dont want a new meter to pay the incremental cost of opting out," Alexis said.
A spokesperson for the B.C. Utilities Commission could not be reached for comment as of press time.