Hydro bills zap wallet
LONDON HYDRO: Get ready for a 17% hike next month, and that’s just the minimum due to an increase in the cost of electricity and, of course, the HST
By RANDY RICHMOND, The London Free Press
July 27, 2010
London residents are going to get whacked with another jump in their electrical bills Aug. 1, one of the many changes coming their way over the next two years.
The good news: Londoners may be soon able to stop fights about the air conditioner by letting London Hydro — not mom, dad or the kids — control the thermostat.
“There is a lot of change coming,” Vinay Sharma, chief executive of London Hydro, said Monday.
“We are going to have to hold the hands of our customers.”
Sharma, board chair Peter Johnson and communications director Nancy Hutton met Monday afternoon with the editorial board of The Free Press, shortly before the utility’s annual general meeting.
Hydro executives painted a picture of an interesting, and at times painful, few years ahead for customers.
The pain will start Sunday, with a hydro bill 17% higher than May’s, thanks to a combination of increases in the cost of electricity and distributing it, and the HST.
That’s the minimum increase, before air conditioning costs are factored in.
“It will exacerbated by the increase in demand because of the warmer weather,” Sharma warned.
The heat waves of this July have energy usage in London at its highest since July 2007, he said.
London Hydro has several new projects under consideration to help consumers reduce demand.
One project is a simple tree planting program, Sharma said.
“There is a significant benefit but it has to be the right place and the right type of tree.”
Studies in San Francisco have shown planting trees in the west and south of a house can save 12 to 18% in energy costs, Sharma said.
Though the savings would be less in a colder climate, he pointed out Southern Ontario has become a bigger user of electricity in summer than in winter.
That’s one of the reasons London Hydro may start an air-conditioning tuning program.
Sharma envisions a day when customers can sign a contract, perhaps for a financial incentive, to let the utility control the air conditioning in their homes.
“On a hot day you will surrender to us. We will not let people override the setting if they have a deal with us,” he said.
That day won’t happen until each home has a working smart meter, devices that record time-of-day usage and provide two-way communication between utility and residence.
As of July, 126,000 of a total of about 135,000 London homes had smart meters installed.
London Hydro plans to get the meters going and roll out “time of use pricing” in the spring of 2011, forcing customers to watch what appliances they use and when.
In general, it will cost more to buy electricity during the day than night.
In Toronto, the smart meters and time of use pricing have led to increased bills, Sharma said.
But in London, the utility will get a chance to educate consumers first and roll the program in the spring when energy costs are still relatively lower, Hutton said.
In 2009, conservation projects reduced demand by about 6,000 kW, or enough to keep 2,400 homes humming for a year.
The province is demanding higher targets for conservation and, under the new Green Energy Act, urging utilities to initiate projects.
The utility has about 10 green projects on the go, most of them solar rooftop.