Shayla Shaw of City Bakery

Shayla Shaw of City Bakery

Fortis powers ahead with smart meters

In a recent press release, FortisBC announced that the company will indeed move forward with the AMI project early next year.

Well that decision didn’t take long for the powers that be.

Just two weeks ago, FortisBC announced its approval from the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) for the company to proceed with its Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project.

At that time, FortisBC was not expected to make its decision for another month, on whether or not to proceed with the installations.

However, in a recent press release, FortisBC announced that the company will indeed move forward with the AMI project early next year.

The kicker is a customer can choose to opt out of a new meter and its wireless transmissions, but it will come at a cost.

FortisBC has a November deadline to provide details about the “incremental” costs related to the radio-off option and until then it’s a wait and see.

Montrose council received a FortisBC letter outlining the company’s intent to upgrade 500 village residences.

“We don’t know what kind of costs will be associated with the upgrades,” said Coun. Don Berriault.

“Nothing has been verbalized yet, but I imagine having to pay someone to come and read your meter will be a factor. If they have to send someone to read a meter for two people, it will cost those people more than if Fortis sent someone to read ten meters,” he speculated.  “Really, they have us between a rock and a hard place.”

The company expects electricity rates will be lowered with advanced meters, due to the dismissal of manual meter reading jobs.

“Advanced meters will pay for themselves by nearly eliminating the expense of manual meter reading,” Neil Pobran, corporate communications manager, told the Times.

In addition to job losses, is the controversy around whether or not smart meters present a health hazard. The Osoyoos Indian Band recently announced its decision to ban the installation of new meters in homes and businesses on reserve land.

“Fortis has acknowledged that we made a stance but we haven’t received feedback yet,” said J.R. Linkevic, the band’s land officer. “Although we haven’t done an analysis on costs, what it really boils down to is why a utility company, a monopoly, can go ahead and do something whether we like it or not. There needs to be a push from the general public, saying ‘we don’t want this.’”

The company maintains that advanced meters were approved after expert health witnesses presented extensive evidence to the BCUC during a public regulatory process.

“We have heard some concerns from customers,” said Neil Pobran. “If we have to work with them to address some of those concerns then we could install the new meters with the radio function turned off.”

The $51 million AMI project affects only FortisBC electrical customers, totalling 130,000 homes and businesses stretching from Princeton in the west, through the Okanagan and West Kootenay, to Creston in the east.

Advanced meters, which are similar in appearance to the traditional model, will be installed starting next year with an expected completion date by the end of 2015.

According to FortisBC, smart meters will also prevent electricity theft and provide customers with more information and fewer bill estimates.