Saving money with Smart Meters: not how you think

On April 19, 2004, the Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, said in a speech to the Ontario Legislature, “Smart meters, together with more flexible pricing, would allow Ontarians to save money if they run appliances in off-peak hours.”
   A few days ago Rosemary Leclaire, CEO of the Ontario Energy Board (OEB),  delivered the following message in her speech to the  Ontario Energy Association:  “We are using data supplied by a number of utilities to analyze the impact of time-of-use pricing on peak consumption. Early results show that residential customers are cutting their consumption during high price periods and shifting their peak usage until after 7 PM.”
   The two quotes are years apart but are related.  Did we really save money by shifting usage as McGuinty claimed or was that simply political hyperbole?   Since his speech electricity rates have risen 65% and delivery rates even more.  Then, add the HST.
   The Ministry of Energy (MOE) tells us we can save money with smart meters:  “Shift electricity use to off-peak periods. With smart meters and time-of-use pricing, you can save money by switching some of your energy use to mid- and off-peak hours when electricity prices are lower.”
   Well, here’s the truth: the money we can save does not come, as McGuinty and the MOE suggest,  from simply adjusting our use of appliances in off-peak hours. No, to really save money, you have to leave the province for at least five months and  head south where electricity rates are much lower (See the EIA reported  all-in electricity rates here.).
   This sad truth was revealed to me in an e-mail sent by someone with an interest in my writings about the Ontario electricity sector.  He described how he and his wife save money by moving to Florida for five months every year.  In fact, he said, their travel costs are paid for with the money saved by leaving Ontario.   Here is what he said.
February in Florida the coolest month I used electric heat, electric stove, and electric water heater, plus TV, microwave, lights, computer, radio etc.  I used 479 KW at a gross cost of $48.89. That’s 10 cents per kW. Meanwhile in Ontario my house at 9 degrees C with natural gas using fans, fridge on, sump pump.  Telephone and clocks on stove, microwave and radio getting power. I used 133 kW for a cost of $59.64 in an empty house. That’s 44 cents a kW. When the house is occupied I use about 700 kW per month. Higher in the cooler months, I would estimate much higher in the cold ones. In April- May 2013, I used 752 kW for a gross charge of 176.00 or .234 cents a kW.
So if my winter costs were the same as April – May, my five-and-a-half-month cost is $968.  My five-and-a-half-month Florida cost averages $30.00 or $165 US.  I don’t really know what my February bill would be if I stayed home–I can only assume it would be more than $176.00  If I do the Florida trip in one night, my expenses down and back are around $500 for gas, motel and
Florida is not the cheapest state for US electricity rates (it’s 16% under the US average) but the foregoing does highlight the cost of electricity in Ontario versus much of the US East Coast.   Those states are ones that Ontario often competes with for jobs.
   Curiously, a side issue of the Florida story is that the principal provider of electricity is Florida Light and Power (FLP) a subsidiary of Juno, FL-based NextEra.  The company has several contracts with the Ontario Power Authority for industrial wind projects and plans to develop 600 MW in Ontario.
   One can only conclude that the Ontario Government’s handling of the energy portfolio in Ontario has driven jobs south, attracted foreign companies looking for big payoffs, granted those companies carte blanche to kill, harm and harass our birds, bats and turtles, reduced our property values, caused health problems in rural communities, and, yes, driven our electricity bills up.
   In the end it appears that McGuinty spoke the truth–he just didn’t tell us we would have to leave our province for five months to “save money”.
Parker Gallant,
September 18, 2013
PS:  NextEra contributed the maximum amount ($9,300) to the Ontario Liberal Party in both 2011 and 2012.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily Wind Concerns Ontario policy.