Residents may have unplugged their Christmas lights as soon as the presents were unwrapped, as electricity rates were set to turn up in the new year.
FortisBC has been approved for a nearly three per cent rate increase, almost $4 more per month for the average residential electricity customer.
“While all customers benefit from system improvements with safer more reliable service, the ongoing investment increases the cost of delivering electricity,” explained Amy Bunton, FortisBC corporate communications advisor.
A slight trending rate increase started in 2013 when there was a general electricity hike of 4.2 per cent, followed by an electricity rate jump up 3.3 per cent in 2014. The company is challenged with balancing ongoing infrastructure improvements with rates.
“In the Kootenays, for example, upgrades to our four generating stations ensure long-term, low-cost power for our customers,” added Bunton. “Advanced metering infrastructure is now virtually eliminating bill estimates and will allow a quicker response to outages, among other benefits.”
The $51 million Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project affected only FortisBC electrical customers, totaling 130,000 homes and businesses stretching from Princeton in the west, through the Okanagan and West Kootenay, to Creston in the east.
Nearly all of the existing electro-mechanical and digital meters in the Southern Interior have been replaced with the advanced units, which are similar in appearance to the traditional model. The key difference is the “smart meter” communicates directly with FortisBC and provides real-time electricity consumption information directly to customers, too.
The devices lower costs, reduce theft, encourage conservation, and can automatically detect outages, said David Wylie, FortisBC communications for advanced meters. But the energy the meters emit has caused concern amongst some people who wanted the installation of the meters stopped all together. About one per cent of the Southern Interior population opted for the radio-off (wireless) option, which required a $60 to $88 set-up fee and costs of an ongoing $18 bi-monthly fee for a manual meter reading.
“A big priority for us was to work one-on-one with customers,” added Wylie. “We tried to resolve their concerns, talk to them about the project and why we’re doing it and why it’s important. Often times that connection helped a lot.”
The installation has gone smoothly, he said. Every customer-owned meter base was inspected to flag any unusual wiring, broken government seals, broken or cracked meter base lugs and included a voltage check.
“If they found that there were problems, that there was a potential safety issue that needed to be repaired, then we’d hire a local certified electrician to make those repairs at our cost,” added Wylie.
FortisBC has since optimized the system to ensure wireless reads are coming in. Customers can expect to see some benefits to personalizing their accounts come into play this year.
Advanced meters provide different billing options and tools to customers like picking a billing date that suits them or an option to go to monthly billings, Wylie explained. Access to tools, like in-home displays, to help better manage use or the ability to see how electricity use changes at different times of the day is said to empower the customer and ultimately lower costs.
“Advanced meters help to prevent electricity theft in the millions of dollars range,” he added. “That’s a big financial benefit to the project.”
FortisBC is a regulated utility that works with the British Columbia Utilities Commission to determine rates.