Hydro Smart Meter

Thousands of residents in the riding of Nickel Belt are doing the happy dance after a decision by Hydro One to stop using smart meters to account for their hydro use.

About 36,000 smart meters in rural residences didn’t get a strong enough Wi-Fi connection to properly transmit user data. As a result, meter readers will have to attend homes to read the devices and customers won’t be able to take advantage of time-of-use pricing.

Nickel Belt New Democrat MPP France Gelinas said that is good news for the hundreds of residents who have appealed to her in recent years, complaining about hydro bills that were way out of whack.

One constituent came to Gelinas’ office with a $1,000 electricity bill that didn’t reflect the amount of hydro that family had used.

The technology in smart meters that allows the machines to keep track of when consumers are using hydro just didn’t work in some northern areas, she said. In Ontario, hydro rates go down after 7 p.m. Some Nickel Belt residents, who did laundry and performed other hydro-heavy tasks after that hour, found that work was billed to the next day during peak hours.

That was just one of the problems with the meters, said Gelinas.

Another constituent of hers, who lives in Hanmer and has a cottage on Manitoulin Island, came to her with a $10,000 hydro bill for his Island property. The bills were eventually corrected, but it put the onus on residents to show they hadn’t used the amount of hydro for which they were being billed.

Some have suggested not being able to take advantage of time-of-use pricing will hurt their pocketbook, but Gelinas said that isn’t the case. Customers being removed from smart meters will go back to paying under the previous billing system.

They will be charged one rate for the first 600 kilowatt hours of electricity used in summer or 1,000 kilowatt hours in the winter. They will pay a higher rate after those thresholds are reached.

Many of her constituents don’t have access to natural gas to heat their homes, said Gelinas, and use electricity, oil or wood to warm them instead. Not having to watch the clock for the best time-of-use price will remove a great deal of stress from consumers.

If people want to do laundry on a Wednesday afternoon if they’re home, there won’t be a penalty for doing so.

Gelinas had a smart meter in her home and said she didn’t see where using electricity at different hours made much of a difference in her Hydro One bill.

"It didn’t work any better for me," she said, although she didn’t experience the large, out-of-line bills some residents did.