A one-in-a-million malfunction caused a Kamloops smart meter to go haywire and grossly overcharge a customer, says B.C. Hydro.
Not so, says the citizens’ coalition that has been fighting the wireless meter program every step of the way.
“This happens everywhere,” said Brian Thiesen of the local chapter of Stop Smart Meters B.C., pointing to similar reports from Australia, Ontario and California. “We believe there are thousands of people in B.C. (being overbilled). And these are all just faulty meters?”
A Hydro spokesman said the Kamloops case was an anomaly, the only one to have over-billed after more than a million of the meters have so far been installed.
And it was caught, ironically enough, by a Hydro employee manually reading the meter. The meters continue to be read manually as the smart-meter infrastructure is completed, said Jim Nicholson, director of customer care with the Crown corporation.
“We worked very closely to ensure there was no inconvenience to him,” Nicholson said. “I can’t say there will be no others. It could happen.”
Over the two months since it was installed, the errant meter calculated the city resident owed $962.79 when he should have been billed $181.12. Once the problem was detected, field service staff and a power line technician were summoned, and the meter was replaced.
Although other reports of over-billing occur, they are often traced back to customer usage patterns, patterns that can vary widely with winter weather. New appliances, bill averaging or occupant changes can also have an impact.
“In the majority of cases, we feel people are satisfied with the situation,” Nicholson said. “Every once in a while, you get some really quite strange cases.”
In the Kamloops case, there was a miscommunication between the service end and the back-office billing that resulted in the inflated bill, he noted.
While there have been increased calls from the public over smart meters, Hydro had no way of anticipating how its program, costing in the neighbourhood of $1 billion, would play out.
“The goal for us is to ensure that every customer receives an accurate bill.”
Thiesen argued that the Crown corporation invited technical problems when it bypassed the approval of the Canadian Standards Association and Underwriters’ Laboratory, which certify electrical products. However, a Hydro source indicated the meters are subject to other testing authorities since they’re not consumer appliances.
The installation program is about three-quarters complete in Kamloops with 11,000 still to go. That means the installations should be complete here this spring.
The errant meter has been returned to its U.S. manufacturer for testing. Results are expected within a few weeks.