Southside family struggles with spike in hydro bills 

Their BC Hydro bills more than doubled since last year 

Graph shows how the BC Hydro bills of a Southside family has significantly increased since last fall compared to the previous year.

A Southside family has been struggling to pay their BC Hydro bills, which have more than doubled since last year.

While the family was charged $836 (before taxes) on March 10, 2017, they were charged $339 in March of 2016. Their previous bill, on Jan. 9, 2017, was $679 while in January of 2016 they were charged $267.

“Each month they are claiming we are using over 100 per cent more energy than the previous year,” said Denise Fortin, who lives in the Southside home with her husband and two daughters. “This is impossible; we are doing nothing different than previous years.”

“If anything, we are using less energy as we fear mounting bills,” she added.

Fortin said their bills started to increase after a visit from a BC Hydro technician last fall.

“We immediately wondered why they were working on our meter when everything seemed fine with it,” she said.

Their following bill, on Nov. 7, 2016 was $458, significantly higher than what the family paid the year before – $290.

“It seemed rather odd that this all happened after the mysterious changes were made to our meter.”

Fortin said she has contacted BC Hydro numerous times about this issue since last fall.

“They’ve never offered to send a technician out here, nor have they suggested any options besides what we’ve already done to reduce consumption,” she said.

“It is like talking to a brick wall,” she continued. “I want the smart meter removed from my property; however, I’ve been told that they will absolutely not do so.”

“I do not make enough money to pay these insanely high bills,” she added. “I refuse to go bankrupt trying to pay a bill that I know I have not accrued in all honesty.”

According to BC Hydro, their smart meters undergo rigorous quality assurance testing by both the manufacturer and BC Hydro.

“These standards address topics such as humidity, rain, voltage and accuracy to ensure meters operate properly,” explained BC Hydro spokesperson Mora Scott. “All BC Hydro meters are thoroughly tested against these standards before they are installed in the field.”

“It looks like consumption has increased in the residence over last year,” she continued. “However, we don’t know how the [Southside] customer, or any customer, uses the power delivered, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused the increase.”

According to B.C. Hydro, there are many reasons why a bill could be higher than expected, including the type of heating system, the type of building or facility, how the building was constructed, as well as changes in people’s behaviour such as doing more laundry or cooking more often.

“Generally speaking, there are a number of reasons a customer may receive a higher-than-average bill,” said Scott. “Heating alone can account for up to 50 per cent of a household’s energy use during the winter months.”

“With colder than average temperatures this season, BC Hydro has seen electricity consumption reach record levels,” she added.

Scott said customers can always perform a “breaker test” to determine what may be causing the increase. Information on how to perform the breaker test can be found on this link: www.bchydro.com/content/dam/BCHydro/customer-portal/documents/accounts-billing/customer-care/breaker-test-for-smart-meters.pdf

“We have spoken to the customer a few times, and have left a message to discuss the breaker test,” added Scott. “We would encourage her to reach out if she has any additional questions.”

Customers who are concerned about the accuracy of the meter can also request an independent meter test by Measurement Canada, a consumer protection agency that governs meter accuracy. If the independent testing confirms a meter is not measuring properly, the customer will be refunded the cost of the test and their bill will be adjusted.

“To date, more than 800 smart meters have been tested and all have passed the Measurement Canada meter test,” said Scott. “We are confident the meters are measuring electricity accurately.”

BC Hydro extends winter payment plan

Last week BC Hydro announced that customers will be given more time to sign up for the winter payment plan as a result of Environment and Climate Change Canada reporting lower than normal temperatures across the majority of B.C. this winter.

The plan provides the option to spread bill payments over a six month period. Customers now have until April 30 to make individual payment arrangements.

The winter payment plan was announced in January after sustained freezing temperatures resulted in energy consumption reaching record-breaking levels that may have led to some customers receiving higher than normal bills. The plan gives them the option to manage these costs over a longer period of time.

The period eligible for the winter payment plan runs from Dec. 1, 2016 to Mar. 31, 2017. Customers were originally asked to sign up by March 31, but now have until April 30. Those who would like participate in the winter payment plan can call BC Hydro’s customer service team at 1–800–-224-9376.

BC Hydro offers other options to help customers manage their bills, including the equal payment plan which can be set up at any time and takes usage from the last 12 months, dividing it into equal monthly payments; helping to make monthly budgeting easier. Customers can also take advantage of the free electricity tracking tools available on bchydro.com. These tools allow customers to see their estimated bill and electricity use right down to the hour.