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Smart meter holdout fees get interim approval

Sharon Noble of the group Coalition to Stop Smart Meters. - Black Press file photo
Sharon Noble of the group Coalition to Stop Smart Meters.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Opponents of wireless smart meters are vowing to continue their fight against BC Hydro after the B.C. Utilities Commission granted interim approval of extra fees that will be charged to holdouts.

Regulators have set out a three-month process to consider the grounds for the fees, which the province has mandated by cabinet order to recoup millions of dollars in extra costs to accommodate customers who opt not to have a wireless meter.

The utilities commission can't scrap the fees, but it could decide they're too high and order Hydro to lower them and refund the difference.

Sharon Noble of the Coalition to Stop Smart Meters said opponents have registered for intervenor status and will urge the commission to delay implementation of the fees while a class action lawsuit against Hydro is before the courts.

"They want to get the fees in place so people feel the pinch as soon as possible and stop resisting," Noble said, calling it a strategy to break the planned legal challenge.

She said it's "unconscionable" for the fees to go ahead before opponents get their day in court.

"This is just one more way of intimidating people," Noble said. "I'm getting 300 emails a day from people who are furious and can't afford this."

About 60,000 households that have refused wireless smart meters have been notified of the pending fees.

They'll pay $35 a month extra starting Dec. 1 if they opt to keep their mechanical meter or if they fail to make a choice, as it's the default option.

They can instead choose a smart meter with the radio transmitter disabled for a $100 setup fee plus $20 a month for manual readings, starting in April.

The only way to avoid paying more is to agree to take a smart meter.

Holdouts who keep their old meter or go transmitter off but who later move to a new home that already has a wireless smart meter will be able to get its transmitter turned off for a further $155 one-time fee.

Also approved is a "failed installation" fee effective Oct. 25 that charges customers $65 each time technicians are turned away or obstructed from accessing a household's meter.

That's based on a cost of $55 for the technician's visit and $10 for answering an estimated five-minute call to Hydro's call centre.

Hydro's application for the monthly fees spells out a range of associated costs, including staff, vehicles and equipment for manual meter readings, changes to smart grid software and hardware, and the cost of extra checks with specialized meters to detect power theft in areas with analog meters.

Opponents say the proposed fees are exorbitant and out of line with opt-out options offered by other North American power utilities that have moved to smart meters.

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