Antonella Artuso Toronto Sun
Turn your air conditioning down — that’s the unhelpful advice offered by the Ontario Power Authority to consumers trying to reduce their electricity bills this fall and winter.
Also in the “Fall & Winter” online seasonal power-saving tips from the OPA, clean and replace your air conditioner filter and close your blinds/curtains during the day — which is the opposite of the usual advice to save energy during the winter.
Oh, and don’t forget to use that clothesline, too.
Ontarians on smart meter pricing may want to look up more specific cold-weather tips when they switch over Monday to winter time-of-use (TOU) pricing.
It was originally pitched as a money-saving program but the average family — who can’t afford new energy-efficient appliances, or replace windows and furnaces — will likely end up paying more for power.
Between Nov. 1 and April 30, time-of-use (TOU) customers pay the highest price for electricity purchased between 7 a.m.-11 a.m. and 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
That means individuals and families will be paying the peak rate when many are getting ready for work or school, or returning for the evening to make dinner, do homework, wash the dishes and watch TV or go on the computer.
During the spring and summer months, the peak rate of 9.9 cents per kWh applies between 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Currently, just under one million Ontario households are on TOU pricing, but that will rise to 3.6 million households by next summer, and there’ll be province-wide implementation by the end of 2011.
The experience at Toronto Hydro is that about 60% of its customers saw an average rise in their bill of $1.40 a month, while about 40% saw a decrease of $3.70 a month, after switching to smart meters.
There’s an extra 68 cents per month to pay for the smart meter, too, until the Ontario Energy Board tells the utility to remove it.
Toronto Hydro says weather, not TOU rates, have the bigger impact on rates.
By definition, TOU pricing hits people with the highest rates when they’re most likely to use electricity.
The goal is to encourage customers to shift their electricity use to non-peak hours because it costs the electricity system more to build and maintain extra generation for specific times of the day.
Andrew Block, a spokesman for Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid, said TOU is supposed to reflect the true cost of power at the time it’s used.
Block said the minister has noted that the program is still in its early stages.
“Is this having the desired effect that we were looking for?” he said. “We do recognize certainly that there are some things that people won’t be able to shift over … and that some people won’t be able to find some ways to shift.”
The ministry is suggesting consumers try to shift whatever they can to off-peak hours, like the weekends, he said.
The government has also introduced a revamped energy and property tax credit to help seniors and low income earners cope what are higher energy bills in general.
NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said the Ontario government would have been wiser to dedicate the smart meter budget to initiatives that help consumers conserve more energy through measures such as upgraded insulation or acquiring high-efficiency appliances.
“The problem most people have is they don’t have the cash to invest in energy saving technology,” he said. “They don’t have the tools to reduce use.”
Most electricity is heating, cooling, hot water and lighting, he said.
Tory energy critic John Yakabuski said the feedback he’s received suggests the smart meter program is not going well so far.
“This whole experiment, it just seems to have been so poorly thought out,” he said. “It seems an increased number of people are paying more and more for electricity every time these people come up with a new initiative. When the time of peak demands shifts during the winter months, when those days are shorter and there’s much less daylight, I think the bills are going to reflect it.”