Smart meters, dumb customer, higher rates

Smart meters may not kill, but is there a benefit?

The smart meters that Fortis wants to install will not kill me, but I figure I have about as much chance of using them to my advantage as I do of consistently winning at the casino.

To make use of the off-peak rates and other money-saving and conservation-oriented billing innovations that are promised to follow the controversial meters, customers would have to be able to understand their bills – a tall order when paying the Fortis piper.

The utility’s latest bill has eight lines of charges, before you get to the taxes. These include new rates, old rates, interim rates, basic rates, conservation rates, basic charges, energy charges, bimonthly blocks – the mind reels.

Trying to wade through all of this to discover how to save money and the planet is about as easy as trying to convince a telemarketer that there is no way earthly way he is going to pry any money out of you and to stop calling.

“What time should I set the dishwasher to take advantage of the new Fortis Save-Us-All-But-Still-Pay-Them rate, honey? After midnight, isn’t it?”

“No, that’s when we run the air conditioner.”

“But, it’s cool outside then, shouldn’t we just go to bed.”

“Bed? Who’s got time for sex – or sleep? We have to do the laundry, bake pies, blow dry and curl my hair, bathe the dog, pressure wash the deck . . .

“Get moving, will you, we can’t just sit around and wait for the midnight hour or we will never be ready to save the planet.”

As for me, I have always tried to do my bit for the environment and a comfortable retirement by conserving energy where I reasonably can.

I bought a high efficiency furnace even when my plumber advised that a medium-efficiency unit made more sense economically. I turn off lights, turn down the thermostat, turn off the dry cycle on the dishwasher, hang the laundry during the summer.

But what does it get me? Ever-mounting electrical bills.

In addition to the dizzying array of charges cited above, the latest missive from Fortis indicates that our daily electrical consumption was up 21 per cent over the 62 days from mid June to mid August, compared with the same period last year.

I was flabbergasted. We had replaced our 25-year-old washer and dryer with a new set that is so happy to labour for us that it plays tunes, all while promising to use less energy. The only other addition to the energy mix was an underground sprinkler system, but surely the digital controls couldn’t make an appreciable difference.

I called the Fortis help line, thinking that the summer billing period used to calculate last summer’s average daily consumption must have included more days. After a few taps on her keyboard, the friendly young voice at the other end of the line assured me that both billing periods were the same.

When I pointed out that we have had a much cooler summer, so I had used the air conditioning less and didn’t turn on the basement dehumidifier until much later than usual, she was puzzled.

“It’s been really hot at my house.”

Since she had no other wisdom for me and couldn’t remember last month, let alone the good old days, I rang off.

Still puzzled, I turned to the newsletter that came with the electrical bill and spied “Five easy energy-saving tips to help you keep you cool this summer.”

• Wash and rinse your clothes in cold water and dry them on the line. Check.

• Don’t heat your pool during the hot months, use a solar blanket at night instead. No pool.

• Keep your blinds or curtains closed to the sun. Check.

• Replace the filter on your air conditioner. I’ll get right on it.

• Set your air conditioner to 25 C? You have got to be kidding!

Men don’t live lonely lives in caves anymore, most of us live with women. Try turning down the air conditioner on a scorching West Kootenay afternoon and the fight that would ensue would heat up the house faster than if you threw the switch on the furnace.

I turned back to the newsletter and spied an article on Fortis’s new “osprey nest camera.” The bug-eyed bird in the accompanying photograph looked even wiser than an owl, so I am going to fire up the web cam.

Maybe he can explain my electrical bill to me.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.

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