Fortis eyes smart meters for South Okanagan

Company has application before BCUC to install 113,000 smart meters in Southern Interior

FortisBC customers can expect to save 40 cents a month on their electricity bills if the company gets the go-ahead to install 113,000 smart meters in the Southern Interior.

Bills won’t actually go down, but “will go up less than they would otherwise,” said Bob Gibney, a FortisBC senior manager who last month outlined the company’s smart-meter plans for the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

Smart meters are already on the way for customers of the City of Penticton’s electrical utility, but FortisBC, which serves outlying areas within the RDOS, has to first apply for permission from the B.C. Utilities Commission; its first such application was rejected in November 2008.

Gibney said the company has to replace 70 per cent of its old-style meters to meet modern standards regardless, and the new technology would also help the company pinpoint power outages and improve conservation programs.

If approved, the $47 million retrofit project would begin in 2013 and take two years to finish.

According to Gibney, each meter would transmit for about one minute per day, and its electromagnetic radiation would be “literally thousands of times below” levels deemed unsafe by Health Canada.

Noting another common concern about smart meters, Gibney said his company has no interest in using the hourly data to see what its customers are doing with their power.

“I suppose if we were really interested, we could all sit around and try to figure out: Is that a pool pump or is that the heating coming on?” he allowed. “But really, that’s not our business.”

Gibney also said the company would “probably not” allow customers to opt out of the smart-meter program as the Penticton utility will.

Nineteen FortisBC meter readers would lose their jobs in the switch, although the project would create nine new high-tech positions and the company would work with its union to transition displaced employees.

RDOS Director Allan Patton told Gibney he’s not concerned with the electromagnetic radiation from individual meters, but worries about the cumulative output in an apartment building with individually-metered units.

Meanwhile, Director Tom Siddon said he doesn’t like the idea of the company’s information-capture plans: “You guys don’t have a right to come down my street and put up transmitters and receivers without my consent.”

 

FortisBC’s original smart-meter application was turned down partly due to discrepancies between the stated life expectancy of the company’s meters and those in use by other Canadian utilities. It also suggested economies of scale could be had by collaborating with BC Hydro, which at the time was seeking to purchase 1.4 million of the devices for its own government-mandated retrofit program.