Customers opt-out of smart meter program

A Nova Scotia Power employee is pictured installing a smart meter.

ANTIGONISH: Some Nova Scotia Power (NSP) customers are accusing the power company of secrecy and dishonesty over its new smart meters program.

Former Cape Breton University professor and current Senior Scholar, Dr. Elizabeth Beaton, told The Reporter she opted out of the program after conducting some research on her own, including the Facebook page “No Smart Meters in Nova Scotia” and “Stand up to Nova Scotia Power.”

She criticized the power company for not letting her know they were installing a smart meter at her Antigonish residence.

“They didn’t send me a notice, nothing on my bill that said, ‘we’re going to put smart meters in your place unless you opt-out,’” Beaton stated.

Beaton also took issue with the fact that NSP did not properly inform customers they have they can opt-out.

“The monopoly gives Nova Scotia Power – even with the [Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board], which isn’t very effective – to do anything it wants; raise rates, push smart meters, punish people if they don’t take the smart meters, and use a default mechanism to install them if you don’t happen to be home or if you didn’t know you could opt-out,” she said. “They simply install them, and then when they’re installed, there’s a great deal of discussion and frustration over the rates; suddenly the rates go up, people don’t know why. And then if they don’t pay, they get cut-off which should also be illegal because it’s an essential service.”

The form customers must fill out to keep their meters as is, shows the company is trying to discourage people from choosing that option, Beaton said.

“They tell you, ‘you must do this, you must do that,’ and if you don’t fill out one section, if you disagree with it, you can’t opt-out,” she said. “It’s such control. It’s literally amazing that they can get away with it.”

In her own case, Beaton said her power bill increased from the same time last year, even though she installed insulation and replaced doors – a case she says demonstrates the depth of secrecy within NSP.

“When I got my last power bill, it was very much higher than a year ago, like three times as high,” Beaton recalled. “Then I called my electrician and he came and checked everything and told me everything is working fine. ‘You’re not using more electricity, there’s nothing out of kilter.’ And yet when I call Nova Scotia Power, they tell me ‘we didn’t charge enough on the previous bill so we added to this one.’ How can I prove that?”

Beaton said she doesn’t like the fact that data from smart meters is stored in a central location.

“All the information that I’m getting is that information is incorrect, it’s unreliable, the technology itself,” she noted. “Studies done right across Canada and world say the technology is still unreliable.”

While the new smart meters will save NSP money, Beaton says that will not be the case for consumers. For proof, Beaton pointed to posts on Facebook from customers claiming their power bills increased after smart meters were installed. She also pointed to the example of higher power bills for some people in Ontario after the installation of smart meters.

“They don’t have the technology and the financial stuff sorted out and already they’re installing these meters?” Beaton asked. “Saying that customers will save money, there’s no evidence that is happening.”

As proof of the unfairness of the new system, Beaton said NSP wants to charge customers $4 per month for manual meter readings, even though the company conducts its own manual readings twice a year.

Unhappy with a privatized monopoly responsible only to shareholders (who are granted a guaranteed rate of return) and its parent company, Emera Inc., Beaton wants the provincial government to assume control of the utility to make NSP’s decisions more democratic and transparent.

“It’s an essential service any more than you should be able to privatize public schools or hospitals, that is where the problem is,” she remarked. “When your government controls essential services, then they’re responsible to the people, not to their shareholders.”

NSP announced late last month it installed smart meters starting in the Port Hawkesbury area, stretching north to Mabou and beyond.

Jacqueline Foster, senior communications advisor with NSP, said customers receiving new meters were notified “a few weeks prior” via their bills and through automated calls. Foster said NSP also shared information with elected officials, issued press releases and public service announcements, and regularly posted updates to: nspower.ca/smartmeters.

On the day of the upgrade, Foster said a technician will explain the work being performed.

Smart meters digitally measure how much electricity is used and when it is used, sending this data over a secure wireless network to NSP, which will use the information to create a customer’s bill.

There is no charge and the upgrades are quick and easy, according to NSP, which noted that the entire process typically takes less than 15 minutes to complete, with only a momentary loss of power.

Once all the meters in the province have been upgraded and Nova Scotia Power turns on the smart technology – scheduled to take place in 2021 – the company promised access to daily information about energy usage and notifications.

Connecting or disconnecting electricity will be easier and faster with no on-site appointment required, NSP claims, noting that smart meters will notify them when the power goes out, helping the company respond more quickly in the event of an outage.

Steve Pothier, smart meter project director, said smart meters are safe, accurate and secure, and will reduce costs in the electricity system, helping to keeping rates stable.

When asked to respond to claims from NSP customers that their power bills increased after smart meters were installed, Foster said a number of factors can impact bill such as increased energy usage, weather or the length of the billing period. She noted that smart meters do no impact current rates or bills.

“When the smart meter network is complete in 2021 – on-site visits will no longer be required which means we won’t have to estimate bills,” Foster said.

But once the network is complete, customers could be charged $4 a month to read meters bi-monthly and $22 to read them monthly, subject to approval from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

“They are necessary as there are costs associated with maintaining this service including manually reading the old meter, maintenance and maintaining old billing structures,” Foster explained. “There is no cost to receive a smart meter and no additional monthly fees.”