Jury still out on Smart Meter Savings (column)
London Community News
Here’s a news flash for Tim Hudak, leader of the Ontario PC party, and apparent front runner in the Oct. 6 provincial election. Your promise, if elected, to junk those power company Smart Meters won’t save Londoners any money.
“It’s true,” says Vinay Sharma, CEO of London Hydro. Although the city-owned power company has installed Smart Meters at about 140,000 London residences, they are not yet being used to charge for power at different rates different times of the day.
So why would a London customer be claiming his or her electricity bills are higher since Smart Meters were installed? “Time of use billing has not been introduced,” Mr. Sharma told London Hydro’s recent annual meeting. “All we’ve done is install the meters. There has been no change in rates, but some people have increased their consumption.”
Not only that, but if Mr. Hudak is elected premier and he follows through on his plan to get rid of Smart Meters, this would actually add to London Hydro costs — costs which get passed along to local consumers.
“Smart Meters are about much more than rates,” Mr. Sharma says. “They benefit us in reducing costs to read meters. They also allow us to instantaneously match demand and to get the true cost of electricity. They help customers too, helping them to make effective and accurate determination of their power use.”
When the Smart Meters are actually used to bill customers at various rates during the day based on what it actually costs London Hydro, Mr. Sharma says “some customers will win, others won’t.” And we all could pay more if the time-based cost of electricity from the Ontario Power Authority is increased.
London Hydro, however, will maintain the same percentage markup on power rates it currently follows – about 25 per cent.
Time of use billing is scheduled to be implemented this year, but that’s unlikely to happen before the provincial election.
Meantime, Mr. Sharma told the annual meeting London Hydro made $9 million in profit last year on sales of $337.3 million, its best performance in the 10 years since it became a for-profit organization. And it paid significant returns to its shareholder, the City of London: $2.5 million in a regular dividend; $10 million as the final payment on a $20 million special dividend declared in 2009; and $4.2 million in loan interest.
The returns “demonstrate the success of public power,” Mr. Sharma says. They also continue to attract attention from private-sector power companies eager to further consolidate the business in Ontario.
City council, which has the final say on the matter, turned down a $250 million offer for the 100-year-old utility three years ago. The same Chatham-based bidder is said to have recently summited a second, more lucrative offer.
At the moment there doesn’t seem to be much support at City Hall to sell London Hydro. It’s a steady source of income for the city and it does keep power rates in local hands. But the city also has ambitious — and expensive — growth plans and at least one councillor has noted a quick way to raise the cash might be just a flick of the switch away.
You’ll find London Hydro’s annual report here: www.londonhydro.com/@assets/uploads/pages-217/2010lhannualreport_web.pdf
Philip McLeod is a longtime London journalist who writes a regular blog on civic affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com.