Hydro One’s shopping list: new Smart Meters”!

Ka-ching! And, Hydro One is considering asking you to pay for electricity up-front …

Electricity: soon to be a luxury in Ontario? More families choose between heat, or eat

It was just a couple of years ago when then Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin issued his damning report about Hydro One’s billing errors. As quoted by the Globe and Mail, “Hydro One issued faulty bills to more than 100,000 customers, lied to the government and regulators in a bid to cover up the problem, then spent $88.3-million in public funds to repair the damage.”

The Office of the Ombudsman cannot now report on Hydro One due to partial privatization, so ratepayers obtaining their electricity from them should be prepared for this monopoly to do whatever it wants.

Prior to the release of the Ombudsman’s report the OEB said this:  “On March 26, 2015, the OEB issued a Decision and Order to amend Hydro One’s distribution license to include an exemption from the requirement to apply TOU pricing to approximately 170,000 Regulated Price Plan customers that are outside the smart meter telecommunications infrastructure. The exemption expires December 31, 2019.”

Those 170,000 RRP customers represented about 14% of Hydro One’s customer base. In December of 2015 the Ontario Auditor General in her annual report noted: “Hydro One installed 1.2 million smart meters on its distribution system at a cost of $660 million”. The math on that indicates a probable cost per meter of $550 each, including the 170,000 meters that aren’t working as they should. Now, Hydro One is back in front of the OEB seeking rate increases that will impact their ratepayers for the next five years. They are submitting thousands of pages of documents to justify their needs to increase distribution rates by 1.56cents/kWh for their rate-paying clients.

Looking at one of the Hydro One application documents, you find the following (untenable) claim related to smart meters: “There is a significant increase in projected spending in 2022, which reflects the anticipated commencement of smart meter replacement, as the current population of smart meters approach end of service life.”

This should alarm Hydro One customers—should we once again be concerned about billing problems? Will the replacements once again fall short of being able to communicate data?

Ontario’s record with smart meters is not stellar. A report issued in August 2016 by The Brattle Group report notes: “Besides Italy, Ontario is the only region in the world to roll-out smart meters to all its residential customers and to deploy TOU rates for generation charges to all customers who stay with regulated supply.” The old mechanical meters were much cheaper and longer lasting as an article from 2010 states: “Itron, which formerly produced mechanical meters and now makes smart meters, said that older instruments generally have a lifespan of about 30 years before they start to slow down.”

Another disturbing issue is found on page 2038 in yet another of the documents submitted for the rate increase discloses Hydro One’s plans when it comes to ratepayers who are slow to pay their bills:

“One method of enabling customer control of their electricity consumptions, while in arrears condition, and minimizing Hydro One Network’s financial risk, is through the use of pre-paid meters. Pre-paid meters are a type of energy meter that requires users to pay for energy before using it. This is done via a smartcard, token or key that can be ‘topped up’ at a corner shop, via a smartphone application or online. For customers who are high collection risk, the financial risk will be minimized by rolling out this type of meter. With a pre-paid meter, electricity is paid up-front. Once the pre-paid amount is used up, power is cut-off until the customer is able to load the meter with more credits.”

 If the OEB backs off on their muscle flexing and grants Hydro One’s wishes, ratepayers should expect they will have to prepay their anticipated electricity usage or have their power cut off.

Sad times for Ontario as power becomes a luxury, and many more households face the “heat or eat” dilemma!

 

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Hydro One’s scorecard: not a winner

Lose, lose, lose … and more losses to come

Hydro One 2016 Scorecard highlights shortfalls

 

 On several occasions, I’ve expounded on the decision by then Energy Minister Dwight Duncan in July 2004 to direct the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) to instruct all LDC (local distribution companies) to install “smart meters”*   The Premier’s October 2005 throne speech included the comment:  “Consumers can look forward to getting smart meters that will help them save money by telling them when they can pay less.” 

I believe most ratepayers know how McGuinty’s claim worked out: over the past 12 years, our electricity bills have shot up and the Hydro One billing problems were top of mind in the media for many Hydro One in the province, thanks to Andre Marin when he was Ombudsman and thanks to  Ontario’s Auditor General. Those billing problems were caused by the inability of Hydro One to read many smart meters; and, installation costs were double ($2 billion) the budgeted costs, as noted by in the AG in her December 2014 report.

While Hydro One customers have been assuaged with claims the problems with smart meters have been fixed, if one examines their 2016 Scorecard submitted to the OEB it is obvious they are still dealing with issues.  Under the heading “Billing Issues” is this: “The Company’s continued improvement is mainly attributable to ongoing business process optimization, investing in the smart meter network to expand and replace various network support tools, and a continued focus on addressing smart meters that do not meet the necessary quality levels.”

Oh dear.

Further on, under the heading “Asset Management” is this remark in respect to why Hydro One exceeded its planned investment: “Hydro One is replacing meters because its service provider is phasing out network cellular technology by April 2018. The new meters align with the service provider’s new technology and prevent loss of data communication between Hydro One and its customers.”   

Garbage day

Hydro One obviously doesn’t want to encounter the negativity of future billing problems so, now, the expensive meters they installed just a few years ago are being tossed in the waste bin. The cost of the replacements has caused them to ask for further rate increases.

Despite the spending on “smart meters” past and present, Hydro One’s “Customer Satisfaction Survey Results” keep trending down despite their claim of higher billing accuracy according to the Scorecard.

Hydro One also shows a lack of leadership in the “Scorecard’s” System Reliability in both the “Average Number of Hours that Power to a Customer is Interrupted” and the “Average Number of Times that Power to a Customer is Interrupted.”

Scoring high in one area, at least

Yet another very disconcerting leadership role in evidence in the Scorecard is under “Financial Ratios” where Hydro One shows their “Leverage: Total Debt (includes short-term and long-term debt) to Equity Ratio” at 1.46 to 1. That means it ranks as the sixth highest leveraged LDC.   With their plans to purchase Avista their debt will increase substantially ($4 billion), raising this ratio further, and impacting Ontario’s ratepayers in respect to possible credit rating downgrades and the resulting increased borrowing costs.

So far, we see no discernible benefits to Hydro One’s ratepayers — only more costs.

 

Sidebar: Amazingly, Hydro One claims on the Scorecard they scored brilliantly in hooking up MicroFit contracted parties where the excessive cost of what the parties are paid are picked up by all of the other ratepayers of Ontario.

* For more background view this article: Hydro One’s failure to communicate rewarded with rate increase