Smart meters

Legislative Assembly of Ontario
September 28, 2010

Mr. Toby Barrett: I’m pleased to follow the member for London–Fanshawe. He’s exuberant and quite a fast talker. The reason I say that is that, for me, it would be daunting to follow the member from Welland. So it’s nice to have a little bit of a break. I’m captivated by whatever the member from Welland was talking about. The statistics are compelling. Those jumped out at me.

At any rate, Speaker, as you have pointed out a number of times this afternoon, we are debating smart meters, and the relative merits, the relative demerits, if that’s a word, of this smart meter proposal.

This debate’s been going on for five years now. Five years ago, we were given some information—actually, Dr. Q chaired a standing committee and visited my riding, and that was almost five years ago. But I can tell you that over the last five years, people in my area have not been referring to these tax machines as smart. They have other words, and “smart” is not one of them.

We have heard this afternoon that these so-called smart meters, rather than adding up the total usage of electricity between billing periods, determine the time of day that usage occurred, allowing a higher rate to be charged during the peak hours. We’ve been told the goal is to force consumers, because of that, to shift their consumption to the lower rate, the late-night hours when electricity is a little cheaper. So, in theory, these so-called smart meters could reduce peak demand.

However, we’ve seen a number of problems arise when this theory is put into practice. As I mentioned, it was almost five years ago that some of these problems were outlined. It was the justice committee, and the member for Etobicoke North chaired hearings. To their credit, they travelled the province almost five years ago to discuss smart meters. I know they visited Norfolk county. That was in February 2006. The Haldimand Federation of Agriculture testified down in our area. Frank Sommer pointed out their concern that smart meters signalled the creation of “a large and costly bureaucracy” that will negatively impact Ontario’s farmers vis-à-vis their competitors. That was almost five years ago. He noted, “We’re concerned that Ontario may be embarking on an experiment that will set us on a course that will leave our farm industry and the rest of Ontario on a less competitive footing with our neighbours….” That was five years ago.

Carol Chudy, who’s associated with the Clean, Affordable Energy Alliance, picked up on that theme: “Reliable and reasonably priced power is essential to their sustainability”—again, referring to farmers. “Much of the farming activities that are energy-intensive simply cannot be shifted. You can’t turn off your greenhouse at peak time. You can’t stop your heating or air conditioning”—electrically controlled fans, for example—”for livestock, milking and storage of product etc.”

Ms. Chudy further outlined the smart meter challenge for business: “Smaller businesses having hours of operation coinciding with peak-of-day use will likewise be penalized.”
I’ll continue with her presentation: “Someone has pointed out that the McGuinty government is encouraging to throw your dryer on in the night time, and yet the insurance companies indicate to us that dryers are a cause of house fires. There are some things that just have not been carefully thought through.”
There was also testimony that day—these hearings were held at the Little River Inn in Simcoe. It’s a great motel/restaurant combination.
Again, going back almost five years ago, with respect to the cost, we were told, “With regard to cost, the Ministry of Energy indicates installation costs of about $1 billion.” Mr. Hampton was sitting in on those hearings, and he indicated that it’s probably now closer to $2 billion.
This is something this government was told five years ago: $2 billion, plus maintenance, plus monitoring costs. The initial cost for the meter is approximately $500 per household. That was the estimate five years ago, plus monthly fees for monitoring and processing of information. The key word here is “estimate” because, again as was pointed out, no firm costs and no firm benefits have been determined. These figures were not presented five years ago, and they have not been presented in any accurate way today.
Fast-forward five years. Here we are. We’re still debating smart meters, and some of our worst fears are becoming realized. Smart meters have meant little conservation and a major cost to consumers. We request this government to do the right thing, do the smart thing, if you will: Hit the pause button on this program. Provide some choice; allow ratepayers to opt out of something that’s going to be very, very costly, something this government was told five years ago on their own standing committee.

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For more information, please contact MPP Toby Barrett at
(519) 428-0446 or (905)-765-8413, 1-800-903-8629