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Fortis to say 'Good-bye' to Meter Readers

FortisBC crews have installed 50,000 of 130,000 smart meters in the Kelowna and the southern Okanagan, Trail, Castlegar and Grand Forks areas. — Photo courtesy FortisBC

If you’re under 10 years old, you may never remember what a meter reader looked like. Like the milkman and the postal carrier, meter readers will be a thing of the past.

In August, Fortis BC will eliminate 10 meter readers as the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system begins sending your electrical usage daily via a wireless meter attached to your house.

The remaining eight positions will be phased out throughout the service area — Region Five — which include Kelowna and the southern Okanagan, Trail, Castlegar and Grand Forks after installation is complete.

“Smart meters will have a significant impact on IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) members throughout the southern province,” said IBEW union Local 213 business manager Adam Van Steinberg.

But Fortis spokesperson David Wiley said Fortis BC has designed a transition plan “that works for many of them” who were temporary workers to begin with.

“We’ve encouraged them to apply for jobs in other areas…to move into different roles, such as power line technicians,” said Wiley. “We’ve been very open and transparent with our employment position.”

Wiley said that 50,000 of 130,000 smart meters have been installed in Region Five. Some meter readers may be employed to service the 234 customers so far who have opted out of the wireless system but it is too early to predict how many they will need.

In July, 2013, the BCUC approved Fortis BC’s application to switch to smart meters under the condition that consumers be given the option to opt out of the wireless device.

Health concerns were also addressed at the hearing, but the BCUC ruled that smart meters did not pose a health risk.

As a result, those customers who opt out — or turn off the radio feature of the meter — pay  $18 every two months for the service after an additional $88 (in some cases $60) set up fee.

Compare that to BC Hydro’s opt out plan that costs $32.40 per month, termed the Legacy Fee. Some Slocan Valley residents have had their power turned off because they refused to pay the fee on top of their bill, said Kootenay West MLA Katrina Conroy.

Conroy and Columbia Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko wrote a letter to BC Energy Minister Bill Bennett March 31 complaining that the fees were punitive and urged him to bring the fees in line with other jurisdictions. In Quebec, for example, customers who opt out pay $5 per month extra.

“BC Hydro customers across the province need to be treated with respect, even when they disagree with the government’s direction,” they wrote.

“This is not happening. BC customers who refuse smart meters are charged an extra $32.40 per month. If they refuse to pay the extra fee, their electricity is being shut off.”

The fees become part of the electrical bill, according to BC Hydro, and once in arrears, the account is subject to disconnection. 

“A legacy usually means something positive,” said Conroy. “And I don’t see anything positive about this.”

Conroy said she believes the Slocan customers who were cut off  before Christmas have returned to BC Hydro because of the expense of alternate energy.

BC Hydro has installed 1.9 million smart meters, about 15,000 customers have elected to keep the old meters and 550 have chosen the “radio-off” option on the smart meters.

Fortis BC said  they are committed to working “one on one” with customers whose accounts are in arrears. “Turning off the power is the last resort.”