Letters to the Editor

Will measuring natural gas be next?

To the editor:

Smart meters are being installed simply because the government needs them to meet their goals.

The public utilities have stated reducing electricity theft or faster identification of outages will save money to reduce rates.

These are valid reasons perhaps, but I think they’re really a shield to the true objectives of the government.

Perhaps the government underestimated the public opposition to WiFi (radio frequency) and the fear of increased consumer costs as a result of smart meters.

However, government has  consistently remain silent as the installation of smart meters marches quickly on—gaining exactly what they want.

A lot of time and energy has, and continues to be, wasted dealing with BC Hydro and Fortis when it is the government alone that needs to account for what is taking place.

When BC Hydro communicated rate hikes of 10 per cent for the next three years, the government closed all opportunities for public discussion very quickly.

The tiered rate structure, which has been introduced July 1, 2012, by Fortis, following the BC Hydro implementation, is another objective of the government and not the utility. Tiered rates are a conservation move, a role only the government dictates.

The government has a difficult problem with two goals—reducing electrical consumption while at the same time realizing the premier’s mandate to reduce greenhouse gases.

For example, heat pumps are very efficient for heating and produce zero greenhouse gases as opposed to a natural gas furnace (95 per cent efficient).

A backup heat source is always needed (preferably a gas furnace) because heat pumps become inefficient at cooler temperatures and also can’t be sized to accommodate the entire heat load in cold weather.

The Fortis website (www.fortisbc.com/Electricity/PowerSense/Homes/Pages/Space-heating-cost-comparison.aspx) shows that, at today’s rates, using an air source heat pump and a 95 per cent efficient furnace will cost $80 more than using a 95 per cent efficient furnace alone.

It should also be noted the carbon tax further inflates the natural gas price. The problem is in the winter months, the first tier of electricity is quickly consumed in the house so the heat pump operates within the second tier driving the operating costs up.

Even comparing energy costs for a geothermal heat pump consuming electricity in the second tier is more expensive than today’s natural gas rate.

There are a couple of problems here. Many heat pumps were installed using taxpayer money under such programs as LiveSmartBC.

This taxpayer money is now in jeopardy. Using the furnace alone, because the operating costs of the heat pump is more expensive, increases greenhouse gases—something the government doesn’t want.

As another example, the government is spending up to $2.75 million with the Community Charging Infrastructure Fund installing electric vehicle public charging facilities in B.C. communities.

One objective of this is to increase sales of electric vehicles and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

During the winter months recharging an electric vehicle will likely occur at the second, more expensive, tier rate.

As you add more of these environmentally friendly items to your electrical load, your costs skyrocket in the winter months because of consumption at the next tier, so they become to expensive too operate because of  conservation rates.

The Fortis website states one of the benefits of smart meters is to be ready to help new technologies, such as electric vehicles.

Another benefit stated is the reduction of 191 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions when the meter reading vehicles are off the road, something the government wants but still has an issue with because of the need for meter readers to read natural gas meters.

My sense is the government, through the B.C. Utilities Commission, is manipulating us so if you want to get the lowest cost on your electricity bill, you will need the smart meter.

The smart meter will be the pioneer of a future where other devices (perhaps more radio frequency) will report their usage and based on what the electricity is used for, or when, will decide what rate you will be charged.

Once again, this will be government doing this and not the utility.

An email sent to local MLAs Ben Stewart and Rich Coleman, and Premier Christy Clark,  went unanswered for six weeks.

The reply I finally received did not answer my question: Did they really understand the impact tiered prices creates with heat pumps given their contribution to reduce greenhouse gases?

The response, from a electricity policy analyst in Coleman’s office, was a link to the BC Hydro site for conservation tips and the only positive remark, that B.C. electrical rates are some of the lowest.

The bottom line is smart meter installations continue while you wait for a reply from the government that is worthless.

My feeling is because tiered rates are relatively new (Fortis has just introduced theirs), many consumers do not have a clear picture of how these tiered conservation  rates will effect their costs of operating things that are supposed to be environmentally friendly.

Homeowners with heat pumps have probably never considered looking at all the natural gas suppliers’ rates to reduce their costs, yet this maybe is a reality of the future. It is also interesting that natural gas suppliers compete while there is no competition in electricity.

The City of Kelowna has a municipal electrical utility that does not answer to the B.C. Utilities Commission and therefore the government.

Fortis is looking at taking over Kelowna’s electrical utility with the city  stating that infrastructure replacement cost (is that smart meters?) is high on the list in an effort to make the sale appear positive.

Should this takeover not happen, then it opens the door to more public debate on smart meters and tiered rates—something that has not happened so far and perhaps something Kelowna and other cities will not want to take on themselves.

Of course, the provincial government may ‘make it happen’ to meet its goals, thereby excluding further public debate. Was this not the way the HST was implemented?

In my opinion, we have been deceived by the government by their absence of any involvement.

With the success they have had, they might try the same tactics for a third time—natural gas smart meters.

T. Kinsman,

West Kelowna

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