Friday, April 07, 2006

Hydro Ottawa Smart Meters - Are They Really Smart For Your House?

The government has set a goal that by December 31, 2007, 800,000 homes and businesses will have smart meters. The installation of smart meters for all Ontario customers is targeted for completion by December 31, 2010.

Currently, there are several smart meter pilots running in Ontario. Hydro Ottawa launched its smart meter pilot project in September 2005. The pilot,which runs until April 2006, involves the replacement of the current hydro meter with a smart meter. 200 residential customers in the Alta Vista, Lindenlea and Cardinal Glen communities are participating.

But are new Hydro Ottawa Smart meters really smart for your house?
You can find an answer to this question if you read the following story from JournalNews:
An automated meter reading program is making it easier for the city to track utility usage. But it is also triggering outrage and contributing to higher bills, customers said.

“The people I feel for are my neighbors who are retired,” Steve Wyatt said. “Everybody is being charged for everything in this town.”

Wyatt is among the Hamilton residents dealing with a dramatic increase in their utility bills. While city officials said a spike in energy costs is a key reason for the jump, Wyatt and other residents said the EZ Meter installed a few months ago by the city is also a factor.

The husband and father of three works as a truck driver and has owned his home for 10 years. Before his EZ Meter was installed, Wyatt said, his utility bill averaged $140 per month. Last month’s bill was $198. This month’s bill is $279, he said.

“I can’t understand the charge of recovery and usage fees,” Wyatt said of the new system. “I’d like to know what they’re trying to recover.”

Thirty-year homeowner Jim Smith of Lindenwald said his home has new windows and other home improvements. Still, he said his utility bills have risen from $137 on average to more than $250 with the new meter.

“Mine went up 125 percent. I think the EZ Meter benefits the city, in my opinion,” Smith said. “One time in 30 years my bill was over $200. It gets rougher to live in Hamilton every year.”

Utility officials said they realize the pain experienced by some customers — those whose meters were old or whose bills have been traditionally underestimated.

“We know this has been a hardship for our customers and we’re trying to work with them,” said Charlie Young, director of Hamilton’s Utility Infrastructure Services. “The situation has also been (triggered) by the rise in gas and electric rates. When you tell someone they owe you $1,000 for the last year or two years of usage, of course they’re unhappy.”

Last year, the Hamilton City Council agreed to invest in the automated meter reading program in hopes of correcting problems caused by aging meters that run slow for the city, the largest municipally-owned utility provider in Ohio. More than $9 million has been expected to be paid within five years because of more accurate readings and a cut in the manpower needed to operate the new system.

Young said the city is offering year-long payback plans, among other assistance.

Meanwhile, social service agencies this year have seen a significant increase for requests of money to help pay utility bills. Officials attribute the high demand for assistance to increased gas prices.

“It’s not as high as it could have been, which has helped the situation. We’re still getting an increased number than the year before because the rates are so much higher,” said Carrie Morris, executive director of Mercy Franciscan at St. Raphael on High Street.

St. Raphael administers the Emergency Money Fund for low-income families to get a one-time assistance. It also has the Homeless Prevention Fund, in which people can get financial help if their utilities have been shut off.

According to Morris, St. Raphael has served 30 percent more with the emergency fund and served 33 percent more with the prevention fund of those needing help paying their utilities in January 2005 compared to last month.

At Supports to Encourage Low-income Families on South Erie Highway, the requests for help has yet to slow down.

“We continue to be extremely busy with assisting people with their utility bills. There has been no drop off,” SELF Executive Director Jeffrey Diver said.

From Nov. 1, 2005, through mid last week, SELF’s Heat Energy Assistance Program served 2,365 households. From Nov. 1, 2004, to Feb. 15, 2005, SELF served 1,751 households.

According to Diver, most of the people who have sought help live in Hamilton.

HEAP offers emergency heating to low- to moderate-income households. It continues through March 31. Last December, the Butler County commissioners and the Butler County Department of Job and Family Services provided additional money through the Prevention, Retention, Contingency program to HEAP for Hamilton residents and Butler Rural Electric customers.

One person who recently qualified for assistance from HEAP is Kenneth Stingley, who has had a $700 utility bill recently. He’s the breadwinner for his wife, Marie, and 9-year-old stepson. They rent a home on Grand Boulevard. He works nights as a stocker for Wal-Mart.

City workers installed his EZ Meter about two months ago. Before the new meter, Stingley’s bill was $200 a month, he said. Then the bill escalated to $700 then $900 by the time he paid a portion of it and got help from HEAP.

“It ain’t the electric that’s killing me, it’s the gas,” he said. “They charge me 56 cents per unit of usage then turn around 99 cents per unit for recovery. They double charge me for my gas. They’re charging more to recover than usage.


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