Opposition says smart hydro meters cost consumers more
TORONTO - There's no doubt the Ontario government's $1-billion smart meter program for electricity is costing consumers more instead of saving them money, the opposition parties charged Monday.
About 4.5 million smart meters have been installed in homes and small businesses to switch them to time-of-use pricing for electricity and away from the old, two-tiered system based only on total usage.
Data from utilities in Bowmanville and Toronto show most customers with smart meters are paying more, while only a small number are seeing decreases, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"There's more people paying more than there are saving," said Horwath.
"Here we have a system that's costing us $1 billion and people aren't getting the benefit in cost savings and they're not getting the benefit in conservation. It's a complete failure."
Toronto Hydro figures show 80 per cent of customers had increases averaging $1.50 a month, while 20 per cent had decreases averaging $3.70 a month.
Figures from Bowmanville, east of Toronto, show 57 per cent of residential customers paid more for electricity than they would have paid on the old two-tiered pricing system.
The giant transmission utility Hydro One, which is also a local distribution company for about one million customers, also found 57 per cent of customers were paying more with smart meters.
The figures are preliminary, cautioned Energy Minister Brad Duguid, because no one has been using smart meters for a full year yet.
"On average, consumers are saving modestly, and I would use the word modestly," said Duguid.
"But there are more that would be paying a little bit more and there are less that would be paying significantly less, if you know what I mean. It's a little complicated."
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak literally laughed out loud when asked if smart meters were saving anyone money.
"I don't think anybody actually believes the premier or his energy minister when they say that these smart meter tax machines are saving anybody money," said Hudak.
"Everybody I talk to (says) their bills are going through the roof, and the smart meters are making them worse."
Hudak has promised a Conservative government would allow people to revert to two-tiered pricing and away from time-of-use so they aren't forced to do dishes and laundry late at night.
"I don't think the premier should be dictating to families to have all the kids showered, fed and ready for school by 7 a.m. when the higher rates kick in," said Hudak.
"We're going to unplug the mandatory smart meters and give families a choice."
Going backwards and unplugging the smart meters is not an option, said Duguid.
"We're moving toward time-of-use so that we can help Ontario consumers manage their energy costs and understand that there are different costs to energy, to the system, depending on when you use energy," he said.
"It's very important ... that consumers are fully aware of the costs of energy, on-peak and off-peak."
Horwath called the smart meters "cruel and unusual punishment," but said the NDP hasn't yet decided if it would go as far as Hudak and agree to let consumers opt out and return to the old pricing plan.
"We definitely think it's a program that is not going to get the results we need to get," said Horwath.
"We'd like to see much more investment in conservation."
Duguid insisted the smart meters would result in big savings over time, and said they were needed to upgrade Ontario's power system to deal with everything from electric cars to smart appliances.
"That $1 billion will accrue $1.6 billion in savings over 15 years," Duguid told the legislature. "You have to invest in modernizing our energy system if you're going to get access to those savings."