By Antonella Artuso, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief
TORONTO – The Ontario government may increase the cost differential in time-of-use electricity pricing to take greater advantage of smart meters, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli says.
Refuting claims from a taxpayer watchdog group that smart meters are a money-wasting boondoggle, Chiarelli said the devices are lowering electricity bills for consumers in part by allowing them to switch their electricity use to off-peak times when it costs less.
Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk said in her annual report last December that the devices set ratepayers back $2 billion to install — twice the original estimate — and haven’t achieved sufficient savings because there’s not enough of a financial incentive to change customer electricity patterns.
“We did have a higher price for peak when we first introduced (time-of-use pricing) and there were a lot of consumer complaints about that,” Chiarelli said. “In response to consumers, we reduced the peak price and there was less of a differential and that created less of an opportunity to save more money on your electricity rates.
“We’re reviewing that decision at the present time,” he said.
Unlike the meters they replaced, smart meters tell hydro companies when the power is being used, which allows price to be tied to time of use.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) on Wednesday awarded the “expensive/broken/flammable” smart meters its provincial Teddy award for government waste.
“Ontario has certainly provided a raft of egregious examples of waste in recent years,” CTF federal director Aaron Wudrick said in a statement. “But the smart meters boondoggle ticks off so many eye-watering boxes: Massive costs, unintended consequences, poor value for money, and of course a total failure to achieve the original policy objective.”
The CTF may be motivated by good intentions but Chiarelli said he takes the group’s findings with a grain of salt.
“The story of smart meters is a good story,” he said. “Other jurisdictions are drooling with envy … wish they could have a system like this.”
The meters have eliminated the need for distribution companies to pay staff to walk door-to-door for readings, Chiarelli said.
Hydro companies also know immediately if there’s a power outage, he added.