How one man beat Hydro One into submission: Woodcock
It’s clear Hydro One didn’t prepare for the smart meter switchover
By CONNIE WOODCOCK, Toronto Sun
Last Updated: May 29, 2010 11:31am
There’s good news for worried electricity customers with outrageous bills: You can challenge them — and win.
In the last six months, thousands of Ontarians have received Hydro One bills that were two, three and four times higher than normal, while the utility was installing those controversial smart meters.
I’ve heard dozens of horror stories — a woman living in one room of her condo because she couldn’t afford to heat the rest; another who turned off her heat in early March; a couple who got a $5,000 bill for 12 months at their cottage, only in use in summer and so on and so on.
But my next-door neighbours received the granddaddy of all bills in March: $2,742.39 for three months on their weekend house near Warkworth.
In those three months, Tony and Maria, who live in Barrie, used it for a week in December, one weekend in January and another in February.
Coincidentally, their smart meter was installed in December.
“I was in shock,” said Maria. “I couldn’t speak.”
Most horrified customers call Hydro One’s customer service number for help. They’re told they have old appliances drawing too much energy; there’s too much waste; they’ve had a major renovation.
One says he was told he must be running a grow-op.
Our neighbours were told their new roof and deck might be the culprits, which they thought strange since few power tools were used.
If you continue to complain, Hydro One will offer help in spreading out the payments or will threaten to cut off your service.
But Tony likes a challenge. An assistant professor in business administration at Lakehead University’s Orillia campus, he asked for his billing records. He was sure he’d been using about 24 kWh a day for years. He created a spreadsheet and graph showing he couldn’t have used the 181 kWh per day he’d been billed for from December 2009 to February 2010.
“I could show our usage was declining from year to year,” he says.
He had one extra advantage: He’d worked for Hydro One’s predecessor, Ontario Hydro, for 17 years and understood Hydro-speak.
Next, he looked through Ontario’s “sunshine” list of government employees earning $100,000-plus a year until he found a suitable Hydro One executive to whom to send a registered letter showing the pattern he’d found and outlining his problem.
His other tool was the smart meter readings Hydro One offered to prove high usage. His meter was installed during the billing period of his old meter so he was able to view the actual usage during two months of estimated bills. The comparison clearly showed the estimates were wrong. (For most customers, account history is available online at Hydro One’s website but you can’t see your daily usage until you get time-of-use billing.)
It took six weeks, but eventually Hydro One caved, admitting it appeared he’d been overcharged and offering to charge him for 24 kWh a day. He hasn’t received the revised bill yet but believes they’ll stick to their word.
One thing he knew from past Hydro experience was mistakes are easy to make with the old mechanical meters since one dial runs clockwise while the other runs counterclockwise. That’s what he thinks happened to him the last time there was a real meter reading.
Most of us don’t need challenges when it involves an out-of-sight utility bill and don’t want to confront sometimes-surly customer relations staff. We just want an honest bill.
It’s clear Hydro One didn’t prepare for the smart meter switchover and didn’t expect the massive overbilling or the complaint landslide just before massive rate increases.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg of problems at Hydro One and its sibling companies, Ontario Power Generation and the Independent Electricity System Operator.
If something isn’t done soon, it will just help, along with the HST, to defeat the McGuinty government in next year’s provincial election.
[It is planned to be the #1 issue in the next election -- Richard]