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Smart meter billing starting to come online

If you’re a Waterloo North Hydro customer, chances are somebody’s been into your yard to replace your meter with the smart variety. The utility has been phasing in time-of-use billing, with some local residents likely to see the bills with the new price structure this month. The shift, which brings much higher rates during parts of the day, uses pricing to encourage a reduction in energy consumption.
The new meters charge users different rates depending on when the consumer uses electricity. The three different rates are peak time, mid peak and off peak hours. Only the latter involves rates lower then the utility’s current average of 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, using electricity during off peak time should cost less.

Smart meters allow consumers to monitor their usage and manage their consumption, said ministry spokesman Andrew Block.

“Through time of use pricing customers will be able to better manage their electricity usage,” said Block. “Basically consumers have an incentive to shift their usage off of peak times which are typically
evenings and weekends when demand is lower and the cost is lower.”

For WNH clients, energy consumed during off-peak hours of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. will cost 5.9 cents per kWh.

During the summer, electricity consumed during mid-peak hours between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. will cost 8.9 cents per kWh, while on-peak hours, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., will cost 10.7 cents.

During the winter mid-peak hours switch to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. while on-peak will be set during the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Weekends all year round are considered off-peak hours.

The system is meant to balance overall consumption and reduce peak demand for power in Ontario.

“From our end this balances out the system throughout the day and week,” said Block. “Not using high peak times helps reduce consumer costs and for everyone in the long term it means we don’t have to provide or build power plants in order to meet peak demand.”

Concerns about smart meters have been raised often over the past few years.  Wayne Murch, billing and settlement supervisor at Waterloo North Hydro, said he has heard a bit of apprehension from customers.

“The media sometimes focuses on the fact that the on peak prices are higher than what they currently pay. Looking at that isolation it might cause consumers some angst, but basically if you don’t change your energy consumption activity whatsoever your bill might increase by anywhere from two to four per cent,” he said.

In Waterloo North Hydro’s range – Woolwich, Wellesley and Waterloo – time-of-use rates are being rolled out on an area-by-area basis. There are two billing cycles in Wellesley, for instance, that have already started accumulating for time-of-use and they will be receiving their first bill in late July, said Murch.

“Consumers have to be conscious of when they are using their energy and be aware of the three times of use time frames and try to curtail any large use activities during the high peak period,” he explained.

“Consumers will have to move high use activities to other times of the day that are off-peak times if they want to be able to control their rates.”

The idea behind the smart meters is to give the consumer more control over their electricity bills.

“We are giving consumers control by letting them shift their consumption, like placing their dishwasher on a timer and have it wash dishes at night,” said Vanda Wall, a spokesperson for the Ontario Energy Board.” This gives the consumer control of when they are actually using electricity. The idea is that consumers should try to shift their consumption where they can.”

The meters are not just designed to help consumers save on their energy consumption, they are also remotely connected to the local utility company and informs the utility when power goes out in a neighbourhood.

“Whether it is a storm or someone hits a hydro pole consumers have to call the local utility company on the old system but with the smart meters the information is relayed automatically to the utility company as to where they need to fix the problem,” said Block.

Block acknowledged the cost of electricity will increase over the next 20 years by about three and half per cent each year to off set new systems and older transformers that need replaced.

The Ontario Energy Board sets electricity rates twice a year.  On Nov. 1, the Ontario Energy Board will be setting the electricity rates and that cost will then be passed on to users through their utility companies.

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