BC Hydro's smart meter system will still more than pay for itself through efficiency and prevention of power theft, but the savings are not as great as were estimated when the project was launched in 2008.
BC Hydro's final project report estimates the savings to be $1.1 billion over 20 years, down from the initial estimate of $1.6 billion. The main difference is the projected cost of new electricity, said Greg Reimer, BC Hydro's vice president for transmission and distribution.
The initial estimate was made in 2008, based on a price of $131 per megawatt-hour for new electricity generation. The price estimate has fallen since then due to lower than expected demand as mining and other resource industries have slowed, and development of lower-cost energy production such as wind power, Reimer said.
The final report, filed with the B.C. Utilities Commission last week, confirms that the project to install 1.93 million meters with two-way wireless communication came in about $150 million under the project budget of $930 million.
[See below for final report]
Actual savings achieved through the first five years of operation amount to $235 million. The wireless system eliminates manual meter reading, identifies power outages more quickly and precisely for better deployment of repair crews, and has reduced power theft, mostly from marijuana grow operations.
The target was to eliminate 75 per cent of electricity thefts, typically from meter bypass wires, but the report concludes that it has achieved a reduction of 80 per cent. The smart grid identifies areas of unpaid power use, and ground crews locate the illegal and hazardous meter bypasses from there.
"The installation of the meters themselves as well as the detection-of-theft work that we have done has led to an increase in what I would consider to be voluntary compliance, or people not stealing," Reimer said.
There were numerous disputes over the accuracy of wireless meters as installation went along, but Reimer said every meter that was removed for testing so far has been shown to be accurate.
The BCUC and Health Canada have rejected claims that radio waves emitted by meters are a health hazard. Experts compare the signals to a brief cellular phone call.
There are still about 12,000 BC Hydro customers who refuse the wireless signal option, and pay extra for manual meter readings. As federal licensing for the old mechanical meters expires, they are being replaced with smart meters with the radio function turned off.
Six aboriginal reserves are among the holdouts. The report doesn't identify them, saying only that efforts to gain access to upgrade the system are continuing.