Electricity consumers — each and every one of us — must be deeply suspicious of assurances from the provincial government and its power utility that the Smart Meter and Infrastructure (SMI) program is not a precursor to peak rate penalties.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the public’s trust deficit disorder when it came to assurances by Victoria and BC Hydro that the smart meters would not be used to facilitate the introduction of “time-of-use” billing.
This week, I want you to discover what BC Hydro has to say about the automated method of penalizing ratepayers for the privilege of using electricity during peak periods.
Less than a year ago, Hydro submitted a “Smart Metering and Infrastructure Program Business Plan” to the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC). In it, time-of-use rates were described as “rates that provide a price signal to encourage customers to shift electricity use from peak periods of the day.” For “price signal” substitute “billing penalty.”
Hydro informed BCUC that “a parallel but separate initiative to the SMI Program is the design and implementation of time-of-use rates to encourage customers, where possible, to shift their energy usage to off-peak periods.
“The new smart metering system (through its ability to capture hourly usage data), working in conjunction with the Meter Data Management System, helps enable the introduction of time-of-use rates. The actual design of time-of-use rates will involve consultation with customers and key stakeholders and will be subject to review and approval by the BCUC,” Hydro reported.
In Appendix A of the plan, Hydro forecast that time-of-use billing could be in place by July 2012.
BC Hydro also published a parallel glossy “Business Case” in which initial references to the time-of-billing honey pot were prefaced by the word “voluntary.” Nevertheless, Hydro’s intention of introducing the premier billing model is obvious. In fact, the report reveals that Hydro has been studying the impact of peak-use penalties since 2006.
The Business Case states: “Smart Meters capture information that will enable BC Hydro to design new rate structures that encourage conservation during peak periods, such as voluntary time-of-use.”
The report goes on: “Several utilities have chosen to implement time-of-use rates at the same time as Smart Meter installation, resulting in higher bills for customers.
“BC Hydro will maintain existing rate structures at the same time as meter installation. BC Hydro will engage customers in the design of any new rate structures and any new or modified rates will be subject to review and approval by the BC Utilities Commission.”
Three points: first, the government has stripped BCUC of much of its regulatory oversight; second, consumers expecting to be consulted should ask how much consultation they enjoyed when smart meters were introduced; third, given the revenue/power jam that Hydro is in these days, it is fair to assume that the word “voluntary” will be the first word dropped from the script.
Finally, it is important to consider who will be penalized most by premium billing during peak power hours. Of course, it will be working families with kids to get off to school in the morning and a million things to do at the end of the working day.
It is those working families who will not have the flexibility to significantly alter their lifestyles to dodge the time-of-use penalties that Hydro wants to impose on them voluntarily. M