Penticton residents will have the option to choose to have a manual utility meter, but how much it will cost them to do so is still up in the air.
At Monday night’s meeting, Penticton council adopted a policy that will allow residents to opt out of having Automatic Meter Reading devices — or smart meters — installed. Instead they will be able to choose the old-style meters that require a manual reading, on a monthly basis.
But council didn’t accept the fee schedule proposed by staff, which would have seen residents paying $105 for a manual electric meter and $26.25 for each monthly reading. Water meters were priced at $40, with the same cost for readings, but only twice a year.
The new policy started in January, when a small group began lobbying council about potential health concerns caused by the smart meters, which the city has been gradually switching over to since 2003. A public meeting in February, attended by 70 people, with only 15 asking questions, resulted in council directing staff to draft an opt-out policy.
Moroziuk said staff used three principles as a foundation to draft the policy. First, that it is the role of federal authorities, not municipal, to evaluate health, safety and privacy concerns related to smart meters, and that the meters being used in Penticton meet federal and provincial regulations. The third principal was to lay the cost of opting out squarely on the shoulders of those that choose to do so.
“All the costs associated with changing out the meters or reading the meters is being borne by the person who is making the request, it is not being borne by the other customers of the electrical or water utility,” said Moroziuk, explaining that the option will be available to everyone that has a smart meter, with the exception of those whose meters are in a bank, such as in a condo complex or apartment block.
In that case, Moroziuk said, you could have anything from a single individual to everyone on the bank wanting to opt out. In those cases, he said, a decision from the strata council would be required, with costs being split among all members of the strata, including those that might have voted against the proposition.
But it was the ongoing costs that stuck in the craw of some of the council members.
“It does appear that these rates are rather onerous on the people wanting to opt out,” said Mayor Dan Ashton, echoing comments made by Coun. Andrew Jakubeit, who wondered if the frequency of meter readings couldn’t be reduced.
Adding together staff and administration costs, Moroziuk said the $26.25 was what was needed to cover the extra cost of returning to reading individual meters.
“We have no idea where these (opted-out) meters are going to be located. You go to one house, and the next might be five kilometres away, we don’t really know,” said Moroziuk. “We have made an assumption that it is going to take us 30 minutes per meter.”
Considering that there are 17,000 electric utility customers in Penticton, chief financial officer Doug Leahy confirmed that using two systems for reading the meters would be costly.
“Anytime we are starting to go outside of our normal procedure, then that takes extra time. If we were going to only bill select meters twice a year, then that is definitely going to take either the meter reader more time or accounting more time,” said Leahy. “There is definitely going to be a lot more manual intervention when we are trying to go to a system of more automated meter reading as it is. It is possible, certainly. But it doesn’t come without its work at a staff level.”
Council eventually voted in favour of a motion brought forward by Coun. Garry Litke, that the city adopt the policy as presented by staff and delay the fees presented in the bylaw until there was a better picture of the costs.
That, however, wasn’t enough for Kevin Proteau, one of the smart meter opponents, who had concerns that city staff was not consider all possibilities.
“There is a lot more things that you have not taken into consideration … like low income families, singles and seniors that would not be able to afford the costs,” said Proteau, who offered to share information collected by his lobby group with the city.
“We’ve done further studying than city staff has on other opt out programs,” he said. “Now that we have agreed that we should have an opt out program, we should look at all options.”