Tom Allen’s playing really rockin’ tunes on this sunny Wednesday afternoon. In the 30 minutes I’ve been driving he’s played 8 songs, many of them in a row, and all commercial free. We have to be grateful for good old CBC Radio2. I admit that when they first made the change to their new format I wasn’t pleased at all. Now that they’ve found their groove, there are a few programs I listen to regularly – Shift being one of them.
Funded by the Federal Government to the tune of $1 billion a year (1), CBC takes a lot of heat from taxpayers. At least the money going into the CBC is serving the country in many and useful ways (jobs in our music/film/TV production industry, broadcasting Canadian music/arts, culture, etc), unlike the money that went into the smart meters that have been installed in Ontario homes. That money has been touted as an investment in Canada, to help us save money, resources and, as Premier McGuinty says, “…enjoy good quality lives…”
Ok I’ll stop nattering and get to the point at hand. As a grid-tied lay-person consumer – which most of us are – I’m curious about energy supply. It seems to me that there may be some short circuiting in this smart meter plan.
As of June 2009 one million smart meters had been installed in the homes and businesses of Hydro One Networks and Hydro One Brampton (installations started in 2006). That number has now increased to over 2 million.
The idea being put forward is that smart meters will be an ally to ratepayers by way of savings in system costs, a.k.a meter reading. For example in 2008 Hydro Ottawa saved $200,000, for Toronto Hydro the estimated meter reading saving was to be $2.5 million by the end of 2010. Meter usage is now transmitted via wireless or another form of technology which means reducing bodies needed to read meters manually. This equals more job loss in a time when there is much pressure on government to create jobs and offer job training. Even if meter reading jobs were entry-level non-skilled positions, they’re jobs. Hydro One has a huge service territory, how many of their rate paying readers are losing their jobs to smart meters? Job losses create far reaching impact for families, communities, economy and government. We have yet to see or experience how this is of benefit to ratepayers.
On informational materials about the new meters and time-of-use (TOU) prices, Hydro One frequently uses the phrase management tools. We’re told that they’re “Giving our customers the tools to make smart energy use decisions…” TOU rates provide financial incentive for people to shift some electricity usage from on-peak periods to off-peak periods. If enough people make shifts won’t peak periods be extended, indeed, created due to TOU rates? If many thousands of consumers start their dishwashers and clothes dryers at 10pm instead of at 6pm, then wouldn’t peak periods only be shifted to a new time slot?
Modern families are already sufficiently disjointed and challenged when it comes to household routines and family time. Terms such as real time and low demand times don’t mean much to an exhausted parent who gets home from work at 6 pm and immediately starts making dinner in hopes of the family eating together by 7pm so that they can squeeze in some time with their children and spouse before bed time. With kids in a household who’s going to do their laundry between 10pm and 6am on a weekday?
Residential customers and small businesses are considered low volume users yet we’re targeted as the major cause of the energy problem and integral part of the solution. What about major corporations with multiple locations; Wal-Mart, Toyota Canada, et al. According to the FAQ page on the Ministry of Energy website, TOU rates only apply to low volume users.
The fact that electricity costs the most when demand is highest is a beacon that hasn’t been flashed enough for most consumers to register. Yes it is important for everyone to think about how and when they use electricity. With generating plants sitting on standby and operating infrequently the financial and environmental costs must be crushing.
Being harsh on the environment and the less attractive form of generation will hopefully be cause enough for generating plants to make way for more ecological forms of electricity production. According to the AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario), Canadians generate more garbage per capita than any one else in the developed world (2). Our supply of garbage is surely more than our demand for electricity. Perhaps biomass would be a more attractive form of generation? Would the start-up costs be in the same range as the 1.5 billion (3) for the cost of smart meters in Ontario alone? With at least two landfill bioenergy plants already in operation (Ottawa, Guelph) the spark has been lit. Could biomass from landfills become one of the most powerful ways to help Ontario (or Canada) reach its green potential?
The Government of Ontario encourages consumers to think about how and when we use electricity. The smart meter is a tool for us to do so. Why don’t they focus on tools to manage their electric corporation properly and make “smart decisions” about facility and fund management? Doing so would have avoided a bankruptcy that customers have to pay for without choice. Now how the heck does that happen? If a consumer’s corporation goes bust they’re not entitled to restructure, change their name, and charge all of their customers a Debt Retirement Charge because they’re using the facilities that were financed by their debt. Yes we use the “facilities” but we aren’t the ones who borrowed the money or mismanaged the money and facilities. Hydro One, formerly Ontario Hydro is wholly owned by the Province of Ontario. The Province should take the biomass approach – bury the debt until it converts into biogas, then charge consumers to use it.
Dear Premier McGuinty
Cc: Prime Minister Harper
If you would please take a few moments to answer these timely questions, I and many other Canadians would be most grateful.
In which country are the smart meters made?
How much of the $1.5 billion spent on smart meters, was spent in province and in Canada?
How many jobs have been created, and in what sectors, in Ontario due to smart meter implementation?
Why are Ontario citizens made to pay down $7.8 billion on a $20.6 billion dollar (4) debt that Ontario Hydro incurred prior to the “restructuring” in 1999?
Do major corporations and manufacturers pay the DRC?
Will the money that Hydro One saves on cost of power and system costs as a result of smart meters, be put toward the bankruptcy blunder and eliminate the (DRC) fee that consumers are forced to pay every billing period?
What TOU rates do major corporations and manufacturers (high volume users) pay?
I/we appreciate your attention to these matters.
Thank you kindly,
While I await their response I’ll make myself comfortable, turn off the lights, and tune into CBC Radio. Listen to that, another Canadian musician.
1 CBC Radio Canada Annual Report 2009-2010
2 AMO Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Heap Of Trouble
3 quote from Andrea Horwath, Provincial NDP Leader, Dec 9, 2010 issue of Northern Life
4 Ontario Ministry of Energy