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Frequently asked questions

How did the project start?

​In July 2013, the British Columbia Utilities Commission gave us permission, after a thorough public process, to move forward with the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project.

We began exchanging meters to the new advanced meters in the Trail-Salmo area in September 2014. We continued region by region, across our service territory and completed the final exchanges in the Southern Interior at the end of 2015.

What are the benefits of advanced meters?

Billing benefits:

  • option to have monthly billing
  • ability to calculate bills without estimates since meter readings are available for any date
  • option to pick your own billing date

A closer connection to your electricity:

  • access to tools, like in-home displays, to help you better manage your use
  • ability to see how your electricity use changes at different times

Better customer experience:

  • more efficient response to power outages
  • more detailed usage information so our customer service representatives can suggest ways for you to save energy and let you know about available rebates
What information is being displayed on my meter?

​Different information will cycle through the advanced meter display, including the electricity you use in kilowatt hours (kWh), your service voltage and system and diagnostic information.

How do I read my electricity meter?

​Different information will cycle through the advanced meter display every six seconds. You’ll see the electricity you use in kilowatt hours (kWh), your service voltage and system and diagnostic information.

When displaying the total amount of electricity you’ve used since the meter was installed, the smaller numbers on the left side of the display will read ‘401’ with the larger numbers on the right showing your total kWh use.

If you’re supplying electricity back to FortisBC through our net metering program, the amount of electricity you’ve supplied into the system will be displayed in kWh beside ‘402.’

The service voltage will display beside ‘477.’ The number will depend on the type of service you have, for example 120 volts or 240 volts.

For larger services, the display will also show the peak amount of electricity used during the billing period. That figure will be used to calculate the demand charge when applicable.

If you’ve chosen a radio-off meter, the display will flash “RF optout” between every cycle.

Other information will also be displayed to help us access system and diagnostic information.

If you have questions about the information appearing on the electricity meter, call us at 1-866-436-7847.

Are advanced meters safe?

​Yes, advanced meters are certified to meet government and professional safety standards.

They operate well within Health Canada’s wireless signal guidelines and comply with the strictest international standards. The signals from the meters are much lower than common devices, such as Wi-Fi routers, cell phones and baby monitors.
Advanced meters, which wirelessly transmit electricity consumption information to us, go through rigorous safety checks to meet certification requirements by Measurement Canada and Industry Canada. Advanced meters comply with all safety requirements from respected professional and safety organizations, including the American National Standards Institute, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and International Electrotechnical Commission. The meters do not require approval from the Canadian Standards Association because those standards govern consumer products. Advanced meters are owned and operated by the utility and are certified by Industry Canada.
The meters are tested by the manufacturer for heat resistance and are installed by trained professionals.
Since advanced meters were first installed in BC, the number of electricity-related residential fires has decreased, according to a study by the University of the Fraser Valley.
Our Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) transmits electricity consumption information wirelessly. Such radio frequency (RF) emissions are governed by Safety Code 6, Health Canada’s safety limits for exposure to electromagnetic frequency, the relevant standard for exposure from RF emissions. The exposure limits in Safety Code 6 are based on the lowest exposure level at which scientifically established human health hazards can occur. Advanced meters operate far below Safety Code 6 exposure limits.
Advanced meters have two radios, operating around 900 megahertz (MHz) for the radio that communicates with FortisBC and 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) for the ZigBee radio that is off by default, but can communicate with the customer-owned home area network (HAN), if the customer chooses to enable it. These transmissions are similar to household cordless phones and Wi-Fi routers. However, the AMI meters have lower RF emissions than these items or other electronic devices many of us use every day in our homes, like Wi-Fi-connected laptops. Top authorities, including Health Canada1 and BC’s provincial health officer2 have confirmed advanced meters do not pose a health risk.

* Measured in milliwatts per square centimetre (mW/cm²). Report on the Status of Research on Radiofrequency Exposure and Health in Relation to Advanced Metering Infrastructure, prepared by Exponent.
Total exposure from all sources
The total exposure from common RF emission sources remains significantly below the limit established in Safety Code 6.

Actual exposure
The advanced meter signal gets weaker as it passes through barriers, such as walls. In a typical installation, the advanced meter is installed on the outside wall of the residence, mounted on a metal enclosure and has a faceplate pointing away from the house. In such a setup, the signal sent toward the house would be about one-tenth of the signal sent away from the house.

That weaker signal is further reduced by the barriers provided by the metal enclosure and the residence’s walls. Since signal strength from an advanced meter is reduced with distance, the additional exposure from neighbouring meters is negligible.

In high-density buildings, such as apartments, advanced meters communicate such that even with a large number of meters in a meter bank, the cumulative RF emission is still well below Safety Code 6 limits.

Transmission frequency from advanced meters
Advanced meters only transmit about 0.06 per cent of the time on duty cycle – or for about a minute a day. The ZigBee radio, which allows the meter to communicate with in-home devices, does not transmit unless the customer requests it to be activated.

Thermal and non-thermal effects
The exposure limits in Safety Code 6 are established based on a thorough evaluation of the scientific literature, including possible thermal and non-thermal effects. Safety Code 6 has applied a significant safety factor to the allowable exposure levels and is the result of the ongoing study by Health Canada on the effects of RF emissions. There is no scientific evidence that Safety Code 6 does not adequately protect FortisBC customers from thermal and non-thermal effects.

AMI and medical devices
Advanced meters will not increase the risk to owners of medical devices.³ However, it is always prudent for patients using any wireless devices to consult with the device manufacturer and their doctor to obtain specific guidance.

Is there a fire risk with advanced meters?

​A report co-authored by the president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia compared the occurrence of fires in July 2010 to June 2011 (before BC Hydro’s advanced meter installation in BC) to July 2011 to June 2012 (post-installation). The report noted there was a decline in the frequency of residential structure fires associated with electricity after advanced meter installation. The report titled Assessing the Safety of Smart Meter Installations in British Columbia also concluded that after the installation of advanced meters in BC, there was a 35 per cent decrease in the frequency of residential structure fires related to illegal activities associated with marijuana grow operations.

Is my information private?

Privacy and security are key considerations in all aspects of our business. Personal account information, including your name, address and balance, is not transmitted over the advanced meter network. The information that is sent wirelessly, such as meter readings, is encrypted.

We place a high priority on customer privacy and the protection of personal information, as we are governed by the British Columbia Personal Information Protection Act, which safeguards personal information.

The system security meets the North American Advanced Metering Infrastructure Task Force’s AMI-SEC standards. The AMI system uses the international standard AES-128 bit key encryption to protect data. Third-party audits will be conducted on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance with the security guidelines, recommendations and best practices.

Security will include:

  • preventing interception of transmissions, using the frequency-hopping spread spectrum technique
  • security software to analyze and detect possible intrusions or attacks on the system
  • role-based and authenticated user controls for system access

Advanced meters only measure the total amount of electricity being used by the premise. Using only this information, it would be very difficult for us to determine what you’re using your electricity for. You may be able to use the detailed consumption information to determine what devices in your house are using the most electricity because you know when things are turned on and off. The information being relayed to us is the same consumption information being downloaded manually by a meter reader, only it’s being sent more often.

Advanced meter optical ports are secured with a log in system and require a special tool for access. Any attempt to access the optical ports is transmitted to our information system so any access attempts not previously authorized would be flagged for investigation.

If customers choose to link their advanced meter to their home area network (HAN) via an in-home display, a second RF radio in the AMI meter (called a Zigbee radio) can be activated. Although customers need to secure their HAN in the same way they need to ensure their Wi-Fi network is secure, access to the HAN would not grant access to our network.

We will not sell or disclose our customers’ personal information, including details of their electricity consumption.

We protect personal information in accordance with the British Columbia Personal Information Protection Act, which governs the collection, use and disclosure of our customers’ personal information. Review the FortisBC privacy policy.

Can an advanced meter tell FortisBC what I'm using electricity for?

​Advanced meters only measure the total amount of electricity being used at the premise. Using only this information, it would be very difficult for us to determine what you are using your electricity for. You may be able to use the detailed consumption information to determine what devices in your house are using the most electricity because you know when things are turned on and off.

The information being relayed to us is the same consumption information that was previously downloaded manually by a meter reader, only it's being sent more often.

What is a smart grid?

​While smart grid is a fairly new term, the idea has been embraced by electricity utilities for years. Utilities all over the world are updating their electricity meters with meters that can communicate wirelessly.

For us, a smart grid uses digital technology and automated communications to improve the efficiency, safety, reliability and cost-effectiveness of the electricity system. It increases our productivity around meter reading, outage response and power theft.

For you, this means a more reliable and affordable electricity service.

Are advanced meters accurate?

​Yes. All FortisBC meters must meet strict Measurement Canada requirements for accuracy. The federal department is responsible for ensuring electricity meters are properly recording electricity consumption information for billing purposes.

A number of factors can result in higher than normal bills, including colder outside temperatures and new appliances. If you have questions about your bill, call us at 1-866-436-7847.

Are my bills based on wireless reads?

​Nearly all of our customers are now being billed using wireless reads. However, if you have a radio-off meter, the meter will continue to be read manually.

When will I be able to view my electricity consumption online?

​The convenient billing option of monthly billing is now available. Tools to view more timely and useful information through Account Online are in development and will be available Summer 2017.

Is there an option to have a different kind of meter?

​FortisBC only offers advanced meters to its electricity customers. However, our customers do have the option of receiving an advanced meter with the wireless transmissions disabled. That means the meter will not be able to wirelessly send consumption information to FortisBC. Instead, a FortisBC employee will visit the premises to manually read the meter. Learn more about the radio-off option.