New Power Meters Let Users Cash In

Worth A Look, Energy, Frontier Centre

Hamilton will move one step closer to curbing soaring energy consumption today with the launch of a new billing pilot project that promises to change how customers use – and pay for – electricity.

Horizon Utilities will begin installing time-of-use meters in several Hamilton-area neighbourhoods this morning that will eventually reward customers for using power at low-peak times and penalize those guzzling electricity during high-demand hours.

The new “smart meters” will replace existing meters in 7,500 homes by the end of October.

Customers will not see a change in their bills for some time while hydro officials monitor the technology.

A date has not yet been fixed for the new billing structure, but the Ontario government hopes to have the meters installed in all homes and small businesses across the province by 2010.

That could translate into savings for people willing to plug-in at off-peak times.

“Just getting a smart meter is not going to save customers money,” cautioned Horizon Utility vice-president of marketing Eileen Campbell.

“Customers are going to have to change their behaviour.”

That means anything from setting your air conditioner a few degrees warmer during the afternoon, to turning the dishwasher on before bedtime, or saving that load of laundry for the weekend.

Once time-of-use rates come into effect, there will be different electricity rates for off-peak, mid-peak and on-peak periods, depending on the time of year.

In the summer months, the highest charge per kilowatt hour will be 10.5 cents on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Winter will see that period shift from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., but will also include the hours between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Customers will pay up to a third less for using appliances during low-demand overnight hours, starting at 10 p.m.

Early pilot projects indicated that residents could cut their power bill by as much as 30 per cent by changing their habits.

But Energy Probe executive director Tom Adams warned at the time that number may be inflated, particularly for smaller households.

He added that larger homes with pools, hot tubs and many electronic gadgets would notice the largest difference in their hydro bills.

Campbell said Horizon Utilities could not yet predict the kind of savings in store for Hamiltonians.

She said results from the pilot project would help generate those numbers.

“It will all depend on the behaviour of the people in the house.”

The cost of the new meters will be downloaded to customers on their monthly bills.

The following neighbourhoods have been selected for the pilot project:

* Hamilton – Westmount, Rosedale and the area bounded by Upper Gage Avenue to Upper Ottawa Street between Stone Church Road East and the Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway.

* Dundas – areas around Davidson Boulevard and Huntingwood Avenue.

A St. Catharines neighbourhood will also be included.

Measures usage by the hour

* The “smart meter” looks similar to the old one and fits into a standard meter base. But the technology is entirely different.

* Instead of measuring how much electricity consumers use over the course of a two-month billing period, a computer chip inside the smart meter records usage by the hour.

* The new meters work on a two-way wireless communication system, sending data to a “collector” meter posted on a pole that gathers information around 500 surrounding residences or businesses.

* The by-the-hour data is then transmitted to a central computer system that generates billing.