This week B.C. Hydro told a reporter at one of the local daily papers that 681 customers had complained that they received unexpectedly high electricity bills after smart meters were installed on their homes.
I figure that would make me 682. In a moment of weakness, I allowed B.C. Hydro, or the company they contracted the work out to, to install one of those newfangled devices in my home.
The furor around this nearly billion dollar investment by Hydro has been mostly about health hazards from whatever signal these gizmos emit so my electricity usage can be recorded at some central location. There has also been a coincidental complaint that hundreds of good union jobs will be lost when meter readers are laid off. Besides that, you will hear that Hydro can’t afford the expense at this time.
While the health hazards have yet to be proven and the economic benefits to Hydro are, at best, debatable, the lay-offs are pretty much inevitable. But, as sad as that will be in terms of disrupting people’s lives, this isn’t the first tech change that has devastated a work force. Just ask all those folks who used to toil in the forestry industry.
Meanwhile Hydro has installed almost 1.4 million smart meters, although I was told that none of them are yet fully operational—at least not in my neighbourhood. While the readout is digital instead of a series of mechanical dials that have to be read individually, a person still has to turn up at my house, read the numbers, enter them into a hand-held computer and then download the whole body of information once they get back to the office.
What is more, Hydro says only a half dozen bills were screwed up because of faulty meters. So I was looking at a long shot.
And that brings me to my complaint.
After struggling through the usual phone tree advising me to go to the website and asking me a few questions about what kind of account I had, and then being put on hold “due to the number of calls at this time” (this time being 7:40 in the morning) and being told the “estimated wait time was less than 20 minutes,” I got to a nice guy named Dave (in five minutes actually).
I told Dave that according to my latest bill, my usage was almost three times the previous year’s usage and significantly higher than what they estimate is the “daily average comparison” at any time in recent history.
Dave took my account number, pulled up my bill and concluded “it definitely looks higher than last year.”
He then commenced to ask me a series of questions: “Have you recently installed a hot tub?” Nope. “Have you rented out a suite in your basement?” Nope.
Anticipating where this was heading and hoping to avert a visit from the local cops, I volunteered the information that I do not currently operate a marijuana grow-op either. In fact, I said, in the past year I have been installing more of those weird little light bulbs around the house that are supposed to use less electricity.
That’s when Dave asked me to go out and read my meter.
Now, thanks to similar technology that will allow Hydro to monitor my usage remotely, I was able to take my phone with me only to discover (with some guidance from Dave) that the meter reading was nothing like what it was on my bill.
That’s when Dave put me on hold. And it was before I actually had asked Dave what his name was so I imagined I would have to go through this whole exercise again. But then Dave came back.
As for the meter reading he said: “They obviously read yours wrong” which doesn’t happen very often. In my research I noted, one Hydro official called this a “fat finger” data entry error.
Dave assured me a credit would be coming with my next bill. Unless, I guess, I get another meter reader with pudgy digits.