Smart meters may be pricey but are superior to 'obsolete' technology, Newfoundland Power told

  (Leonard Drake/CBC - image credit)
(Leonard Drake/CBC - image credit)

Bowman says that advanced metering infrastructure, or smart meters, give customers greater control over their electricity bills. (Leonard Drake/CBC)

Newfoundland Power is being told to launch a faster transition to smart meters, which advocates say will give customers more and better information on how they use power — and can save money.

Doug Bowman, an American energy industry consultant who is scheduled to appear at a Public Utilities Board hearing in June, says electrical customers are better served by the meters.

"It's a wave of new technology that's being implemented pretty much everywhere," Bowman said in an interview earlier this week with CBC Radio's On The Go. He said more than 90 per cent of Canadian and U.S. households will have smart meters by the end of 2027.

"That gives customers the ability to have greater control over their electricity bills," he said.

Newfoundland Power already has a meter replacement program, replacing defective meters with upgraded ones and adding new meters for new customers.

However, Bowman says that the metering technology implemented by Newfoundland Power in 2017 is already out of date.

"I don't see any reason to replace existing meters with meters that will soon be obsolete," he said.

Power outages can also be addressed faster with smart meters, he said, and the technology can identify voltage quality concerns that may affect the lifespan of appliances.

Also known as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), smart meters are the leading metering system in Canada, said Dennis Browne, Newfoundland and Labrador's consumer advocate.

"In this province we're always operating at peak system, particularly in the winter months, but if we had smart meters, we could find ways to adjust that rate," said Browne.

Browne said because smart meters can monitor electricity and energy use through the home, rate-payers would be able to view details about their usage online.

"It can tell the customer what devices are on, what electricity is being used and it can give a synopsis of how much electricity you're using in a given day," said Browne.

Dennis Browne is Newfoundland and Labrador's consumer advocate, and a fierce critic of the Muskrat Falls project.
Dennis Browne is Newfoundland and Labrador's consumer advocate, and a fierce critic of the Muskrat Falls project.

Dennis Browne, Newfoundland and Labrador's consumer advocate, thinks Newfoundland Power customers would be better served with smart meters. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Smart meters also allow consumers to see time-of-day rates. For example, it may be cheaper to use a dishwasher at night because the system is no longer at its peak.

He said smart meters would give consumers the ability to control their own costs, effectively helping with rate mitigation.

Browne questions Newfoundland Power's reluctance to move to AMI technology.

"It's all about increasing their rate of return and it's all about having ratepayers pay more for their electricity, so Newfoundland Power gets more in profit," said Browne.

Currently all other provinces except P.E.I, Quebec, and Manitoba, have begun implementing smart meters.

Company says current operations are cost-effective

Michelle Coughlan, a Newfoundland Power spokesperson, said in a statement that the company's current technology "continues to provide an efficient and cost-effective way to read meters for our customers."

Coughlan said that updating to smart meters would not be the least-cost option for customers.

Newfoundland Power says the most recent cost estimate was in excess of $100 million.

"Right now the benefits are not great enough to justify the high cost to implement AMI technology. However, there is potential for this to become the least-cost option in the future," she said.

Bowman believes that the investment would be worthwhile.

"You're going to spend money on meters one way or another" he said, "Like all technologies, over time it's expected that the benefits will outweigh the cost."

In January, Newfoundland Power proposed a 5.5 per cent increase in customer electricity rates by 2025, but the PUB thinks the eventual increase may be even higher. 

Coughlan said Newfoundland Power already has money-saving programs in place, including rebates, to help consumers and company save energy and money.

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