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Burnaby man questions cost of refusing smart meter
For the past year-and-a-half, a Burnaby man has managed to decline to have a BC Hydro smart meter installed at his house.
But that may soon change now that he's received a notice of how much it will cost to keep the status quo.
Balbir Khakh, 71, is a lung cancer patient and has been turning down requests to have the new meter installed out of safety concerns, although he said he has not discussed the issue with his doctor.
Smart meters are capable of relaying information on power consumption to the electrical utility several times a day through the use of radio transmitters. Customers can access the information online to better control their electricity use, and the utility is notified automatically of power outages.
But Khakh isn't really interested. He's received three visits and two phone calls from BC Hydro and each time he's turned them down.
Then two weeks ago he received a notice setting out his options: keep his old electrical meter and pay $35 a month; receive a smart meter but with the radio-transmitter function turned off and pay $100 for set up and then $20 a month; or agree to have a smart meter installed at no cost.
It was not only more costly than Khakh expected, but he questioned why the fees are monthly when he only gets his meter read every two months?
And citing media reports that more than 2,600 BC Hydro employees earned more than $100,000 last year, he added, "If they're increasing charges to the public, why they don't tighten their own belt?"
He said he hasn't yet decided but the fees are so high he may end up accepting a new smart meter.
"I feel bad but I have no option."
Burnaby-Lougheed New Democrat MLA Jane Shin said Khakh is not alone. "It's not an uncommon concern."
Shin said she has also spoken to local businesses and residents who saw their bills double and triple after getting a smart meter, raising concerns about the accuracy of the new meters.
How the program has been rolled out "is a cause for bigger concern than the actual smart meter program itself," she said.
"It's a significant burden for any person who chooses to opt out of the system for whatever reason, personal or otherwise."
There is a misperception that the proposed fees are simply for meter-reading, said Greg Alexis, spokesperson for BC Hydro's smart metering program. It's actually also the cost of building and operating a separate system to accommodate those who want to stay off the main smart-metering system that serves the other 96 per cent.
The fees for people wanting to opt out are nothing new, Alexis added. In Portland, Ore., they're charging $51 a month plus an initial setup charge of $254, and Hydro Quebec is charging $17 a month plus an initial $98 fee.
"The decision to charge cost-recovery fees ensures that the rest of Hydro's customers, the ones that have accepted smart meters, aren't subsidizing the personal choices of a very small number of people."
In Burnaby, 91,100 smart meters have been installed and 800 customers, or one per cent, have asked BC Hydro to hold off, he said. That compares with 1.83 million installed and 60,000 declined provincewide.
The information collected by the smart meters includes things like power quality and consumption on an hourly basis. It's all information that assists BC Hydro in managing its system and will also be collected manually from smart meters that have the radio turned off, the reason for the difference in fees, $20 compared to $35 for keeping older meters.
Affected customers have been given a Dec. 1 deadline to inform BC Hydro of what they want to do.
As for concerns about the accuracy of the new meters, Alexis said customers who dispute their bills can request an independent meter test by Measurement Canada. The $100 cost is refunded if the meter is found to be faulty.
To date they've had 340 requests for such tests. "Every single one of them has come back accurate."