FortisBC proposes to continue improving and modernizing its electrical grid with an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project in an application filed today with the BC Utilities Commission.
With this filing, FortisBC begins a public and transparent regulatory process that will end with a decision from the BC Utilities Commission determining whether or not FortisBC can begin its AMI project.
Should FortisBC receive a positive decision, the utility would proceed to upgrade its electrical grid by exchanging close to 115,000 manually read meters with advanced meters and incorporating the supporting hardware and software. The project is expected to cost approximately $48 million and save customers $19 million over the life of the project. Meter exchanges would begin in 2014 and be complete by the end of 2015.
“FortisBC believes this project will provide enhanced customer service and better value for our customers,” said Tom Loski, vice president of customer service at FortisBC. “When the project is complete, our electricity customers will have a chance for the first time to see in near real-time how much electricity they are using and will be able to make more informed decisions regarding conservation.”
Project highlights include:
- $19 million in savings over the life of the project helping to keep rates lower for electricity customers.
- Enhanced information to help customers manage their electricity consumption, including the ability to see how much power has been used since the last bill.
- Improved ability for FortisBC to detect and restore power outages.
- Reduced electricity theft – FortisBC estimates that $3.7 million of electricity is stolen annually – revenues that would otherwise reduce customer rates.
FortisBC notes the timing of the project also corresponds with new standards from Measurement Canada requiring greater meter accuracy. The enhanced accuracy requirements will require FortisBC to exchange approximately 80,000 electromechanical meters with digital meters whether the AMI project goes ahead or not.
FortisBC is evaluating the business case for advanced meters for natural gas, but at this time has no plans for a similar deployment of remote gas meter reading technology.
MEDIA BACKGROUNDER – FortisBC and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)
FortisBC’s AMI project involves replacing close to 115,000 electricity meters with new advanced meters across the FortisBC electricity service territory in B.C.’s southern interior. In order for these meters to communicate with FortisBC, a software infrastructure will be installed along with a communications network.
Advanced meters are comparable to traditional meters in size and shape – the one main difference is the ability to communicate with FortisBC and provide near-real time electricity use information to customers. The information collected from advanced meters is similar to the information collected today from meter readers, however, advanced metering allows for more frequent updates of this information. The meters can also report in near-real time how much electricity a household is using, meaning customers can get a better sense of their electricity use and tailor consumption appropriately.
The actual switching of meters for FortisBC electricity customers would involve a brief service outage to allow FortisBC crews to safely remove the old meter and replace it with the new advanced meter.
Advanced meters are tamper-resistant, thereby reducing the likelihood of electricity theft and the associated safety hazards. AMI devices will comply with all applicable safety guidelines and regulations, including Health Canada (Safety Code 6) which regulates radio frequency emissions. Advanced meters will also comply with European wireless standards. FortisBC commissioned, Dr. Bailey, an independent consultant to provide a study on the safe operation of the advanced meters to be installed in FortisBC’s service areas. His study, based on peer reviewed research is available at fortisbc.com/ami and concludes:
“The advanced meters utilized by FortisBC will operate in compliance with the regulations of Health Canada. Exposure to RF energy will be far below the exposure limits recommended by Health Canada, and those of ICNIRP and other scientific and regulatory agencies. In this report, recent scientific research regarding cancer and symptoms has been summarized to determine whether it might suggest adverse effects at levels below exposure limits recommended by these organizations. The reviews and the recently published research with improved exposure information do not provide a reliable scientific basis to conclude that the operation of the advanced meters will cause or contribute to adverse health effects or physical symptoms in the population.”
FortisBC’s proposed AMI plan adheres to strict encryption for handling customers’ data—utilizing 128 bit encryption keys. With AMI, the information sent to the utility includes total electricity used in a household, not how someone uses electricity or which appliances are being used, and like all customer information, this information is protected under British Columbia Personal Information Protection Act.
For any major project, FortisBC is required to file an application with the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC). The Commission then determines the type and duration of the regulatory process. Public can participate in the process as either interveners or interested parties. For more information on the BCUC and the regulatory process, please visit www.bcuc.com.
What AMI means for FortisBC customers
Helps keep rates lower
Advanced metering will save customers at least $19 million over the life of the project, primarily through reduced electricity theft and lower meter reading costs.
Provides more information & options
Customers will be able to access more detailed electricity usage information through our website as well as through optional, customer-purchased, in-home displays, helping to better understand bills and manage energy consumption.
Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
Currently, FortisBC meter readers drive approximately 500,000 kilometres per year, consuming about 80,000 litres of gasoline. The resulting 191 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions will be dramatically reduced when these meter reading vehicles are off the road.
Helps prevent electricity theft
FortisBC estimates that electricity theft is costing our customers about $3.7 million annually in lost revenue. Advanced meters will help stop theft, helping to keep rates low. In addition, there are often serious safety risks for the public and FortisBC employees due to improper electric wiring and other hazards resulting from electricity theft.
Provides immediate notification of power outages
If there’s a power outage, advanced meters will immediately notify FortisBC of the outage. Advanced metering will pinpoint problems quickly and specifically, allowing for a quicker restoration time.
Improves billing accuracy and frequency
Bills will be calculated from actual electricity use, not from estimated readings since meter readings will always be available when required.
Helps with customer-owned distribution power generation and electric cars
As on-site generation becomes more popular, FortisBC will be able to better manage the electrical system if customers choose to generate solar, wind or even micro run of river power. The grid will be ready to handle these new technologies, including electric cars, without interruption.