Hydro smart meters coming this year

BC Hydro is getting ready to install “smart meters” across the province that will tell customers how much electricity they’re using at different times of the day.

Computer display shows how smart meter will give running information about electricity consumption and cost when customers log in to their BC Hydro accounts.

Computer display shows how smart meter will give running information about electricity consumption and cost when customers log in to their BC Hydro accounts.

BC Hydro is getting ready to install “smart meters” across the province that will tell customers how much electricity they’re using at different times of the day.

But unlike Ontario’s smart meters, the B.C. program will not immediately come with mandatory higher rates for peak period use and lower rates for non-peak times such as late at night. In its business case for the new meters, released last Tuesday, BC Hydro says customers will be offered an opportunity to choose “time of use” rates if they want them.

But that promise only lasts until all the new meters are installed, by the end of 2012. The completion date was dictated by the B.C. government’s latest energy plan, part of Premier Gordon Campbell’s effort to encourage new clean energy sources and stop net electricity imports to B.C.

BC Hydro says it is still in the early stages of determining its rate structure for the smart meter era, and all rate changes must be approved by the B.C. Utilities Commission.

The smart meter program is budgeted to cost $930 million, including meters, wireless networks and in-home displays for customers.

NDP energy critic and leadership candidate John Horgan said a new time-of-day rate structure is inevitable, but it can’t be imposed until customers have smart meters. He continues to question the high initial cost, especially as BC Hydro raises rates and contracts with higher-cost private power producers.

“If you had a billion dollars, is this the best way to spend it?” Horgan said. “And we’re looking at a 50 per cent rate increase over the next three years.”

He suggested the money would be better spent helping people install energy-saving home upgrades such as insulation and double-glazed windows.

BC Hydro estimates that the smart meter program will produce a net savings of $500 million over the next 20 years, through improved reliability and efficiency as well as conservation of energy.

The smart meters will report consumption automatically, eliminating the need for meter readers, and the new meters will also detect power outages and electricity theft.

Installation is to begin by mid-2011, and customers will receive notices along with their bills when installers are coming to their community.

Once a smart meter is installed, customers with computers will be able to log into their secure BC Hydro account and see a nearly real-time display of their electricity use.

After meter installation is done in 2012, BC Hydro plans to offer rebates to people who want to purchase an in-home power consumption display that sits on the wall like a thermostat.