In his 40 years of owning a camp north of Thunder Bay, Ont., Reg Freund says he's never had a hydro bill for over $118.

But, that changed in early 2016, when Freund opened up his Hydro One bill, and noticed he owed over $6,300.

"[I] went into the bedroom and changed my shorts," said Freund. "I haven't got $6,300 laying around. I don't know about most people."

Freund said after a number of calls to Hydro One, the company said it had made an error. The bill was reduced by a few thousand dollars, because the company backdated meter reading errors for 31 months. Hydro One is allowed to go back into its records for billing errors for only 24 months.

Still, Freund said he can't pay a bill when he didn't use the electricity. He said he's paid his quarterly hydro bill on time for years.

li-bc-111130-smart-meter

Reg Freund says he had no issues with his hydro bill until a smart meter, similar to this one, was installed at his camp north of Thunder Bay. (CBC)

"I have never paid a quarterly bill of more than $118," he said.

Freund said if the Hydro One bill was correct, he would be paying between $900 and $1,000 a month for electricity, year round. His camp is a seasonal property, and he doesn't go to his camp in the winter.

Timing coincidence

Freund said although he cannot explain exactly why his bill jumped, he has a theory, and it has to do with the installation of a smart meter. His camp has patchy cell phone service, and that poor signal leads to a bad connection between his hydro meter and Hydro One. 

"About 31 months ago thereabouts, hydro went in and changed over a lot of meters to the smart meter. That seems to be when my problems started. Up until then, I never had a problem."

Tiziana Baccega-Rosa, a spokesperson for Hydro One, said the utility does have some customers with smart meters that do not properly connect to the system. She said upgrades are constantly being made.

"If we still can't get them to work, then we have to look at larger investments. And again, it's finding that balance between the investment and the cost for the greater good."

Hydro One 20151104

Hydro One said it is continually upgrading its wireless networks to provide service to all smart meters. However, it acknowledges that some areas still do not have adequate coverage to have a reliable signal between the smart meter and Hydro One. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

The Hydro One ombudsman said it has lodged over 600 complaints since its office opened in mid-March of 2016. 

285 of those complaints have to do with billing, including high bills, or meter to bill issues. A spokesperson for that office said sixty per cent of those concerns have been sent back to the company, for Hydro One to "fix."

Another bill in the mail

Freund said the utility has now offered him a deal, asking him to pay just over $2,000 to eliminate the back payments. However, after that offer was made, another bill came in the mail.

"So now I'm thinking we're talking up to that date," said Freund. "Everything henceforth will be wiped out, there will be $2,100 left, I will pay that off, and the bill from there will be gone."

"I go to the mail about two weeks ago, and I've got another Hydro One bill. January, February, March, OK, the quarterly one is due. I open the doggone thing up, I've got another bill for $871." 

Freund said he knows there's something wrong with his account after he received his last bill.

It's because he wasn't even at camp, and the power was turned off during those months.