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The meters can also alert B.C. Hydro to power outages. Previously, they would have no indication of when and where power might be out until they received phone calls from customers.
Initially the information collected by the smart meters will be used by B.C. Hydro, but Robinson Riddell says the plan is to share that information with customers. The cost is estimated to be $480 to $530 million to outfit roughly 1.7 million households with smart meters.
“There might be a component that lets customers view their bill online and get detailed information, or to look at their meter to find out what they’re using moment by moment,” she said. “The goal is to encourage people to be more energy conscious. When they come home from work they might turn on the TV, the computer, turn the oven on to make dinner, run a load of laundry, put the dishwasher on, and right now you don’t know what that’s costing you. Smart metering can tell you that each hour after you came home you’re using $4.50 per hour. It’s been shown in other places that people respond to metering by cutting their power usage.”
Robinson Riddell says that also opens up the possibility of creating time of use rates for B.C. Hydro customers. For example, B.C. Hydro imports most of its power between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. daily, when people return home from work. If power costs slightly more during that time, households might decide to wash dishes or laundry at night or in the morning, and to limit the number of appliances running until the rates come down.
When enough people cut back their power usage, B.C. won’t need to import power to make up for the shortfall, says Robinson Riddell.
Time of use rates are still being discussed at this point, but a two-step system is very much in the works and could be in effect by this summer.
The two-step system would set a rate of 6.23 cents per kilowatt hour for households using less than 1,600 kWh during the 60-day billing period, and 6.98 cents per kWh for households using more.
It’s still the cheapest power in Canada, says Robinson Riddell — Toronto customers pay 12 cents per kWh — but it might convince some households to reevaluate their power usage to save money.
The 1,600 kWh threshold is a little below the average household.
“It’s something that the B.C. Utilities Commission asked us to look into because 20 per cent of our customers… are using 40 per cent of the residential load,” she said. “Everybody can cut back somewhere, with the right incentive.”