by Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press
TORONTO – If electricity bills are up for Ontario homeowners with smart meters it might be the old meter’s fault – at least that’s what the Liberal government was saying Monday.
The so-called smart meters, which allow people to take advantage of time-of-use pricing for electricity, are more accurate than the 40-to-50-year-old meters they replace, said Energy Minister Brad Duguid.
“I’m not suggesting that bills haven’t gone up, but there are a variety of reasons for that,” said Duguid, who noted this year’s hot summer meant much greater use of air conditioners than last year.
“One less common (reason) is that when you put in the new meter you find out the previous meter wasn’t working and billing properly, so the new meter just is bringing bills up to date and is more accurate.”
The energy minister is looking for any excuse he can find to explain away soaring electricity bills, said the New Democrats.
“Every day it’s a new story from the minister,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“The stories that I care about are the ones the people of Ontario are telling me, and that is they cannot afford the cost of hydro.”
Premier Dalton McGuinty admitted Monday he hadn’t heard about old hydro meters being inaccurate, but he offered a spirited defence of the government’s $1-billion program to install smart meters.
“Even the United Kingdom, which is bound and determined to reduce government costs, is moving as quickly as they can to install smart meters in their homes and businesses so they can better manage their electricity system,” McGuinty said at an unrelated event.
“It’s something that we simply must do as we come of age as an economy that is going to responsibly manage its electricity system.”
The Progressive Conservatives call smart meters tax machines and vow to give consumers the option of staying on fixed prices for electricity instead of moving to time-of-use pricing if they win next year’s election.
The New Democrats accused the government of hiding the true cost of the smart meter program, noting Hydro One estimates its costs for smart meters at $1 billion – the same as the government’s estimate for the whole program – and Hydro One is responsible for only one-fifth of the customers who will get the new meters.
“Something’s not adding up,” said Horwath.
“That’s why we want the auditor general to go in and do a cost-benefit analysis because we need to know exactly what the not-so-smart meter program is costing the people of Ontario.”
The smart meter program is not over budget, insisted Duguid.
“We’re on budget, on time when it comes to rolling out smart meters across this province,” he said.
Smart meters have been installed in over four million Ontario homes, but only about one quarter of that number have actually switched to time-of-use pricing. Early figures show they are saving money with the smart meters, added Duguid.
“The preliminary work for those that have been on (time of use pricing) for an extended period of time would show a slight decrease to date in their bills, on average,” he said.
“It is a very modest impact, and on average, a small savings to the consumer.”
That’s not what hydro customers are telling the NDP, said Horwath, who again demanded the Liberal government remove the HST from electricity bills.
“The HST is salt in the wound to hydro costs,” said Horwath. “Just take the HST off of hydro and start giving people a break.”
McGuinty has already rejected the idea of removing the HST from electricity bills.