Ontario's environmental watchdog says the province has no idea if its hydro 'smart meters' are having any effect on electricity conservation.

The report is likely to cause controversy given the Ontario government's plan to install the meters at every home and apartment in the province. The meters are supposed to allow utilities to charge consumers different prices for electricity at different times of day:  high prices during peak times, lower prices at off-peak times.

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The trouble is, according to Ontario's environmental commissioner is that there's no evidence the smart meters are having any effect on consumption patterns.

"The prices, set semi-annually by the Ontario Energy Board, are not based on actual data of how price levels affect customers’ consumption. [Time of use] prices should incorporate this real-world information in order to maximize the amount of conservation," Gord Miller said in a news release accompanying his annual report.

Overall, he said, Ontario's energy conservation measures have been "substantial, but incomplete" and pointed to the smart meters as an example.  

Mill told reporters at Queen's Park on Wednesday that it's impossible to tell "not only how much energy [smart meters are] saving us, but what is the pattern of use that's changed, so that we can set the pricing on some kind of logical basis." 

Miller says he is concerned that electricity use continues to spike on hot summer days — "a peaking problem" he calls it. 

If that keeps up, Miller says, Ontario will need to build controversial and costly power plants to cope with peak demand.

His suggestion is not one that will sit well with most consumers: make hydro more expensive at peak times.

"I think the reward for using power off-peak should be greater, and the penalty for using power on-peak should be greater as well," Miller said. 

Until Ontario's power authority gets a handle on the impact of smart meters Miller says setting the different time-of-use prices is nothing more than guess work. 

The Progressive Conservatives said that confirmed their claim that smart meters are "nothing more than tax machines" that force people to do laundry and other chores in evenings and very early mornings to get the lowest electricity prices.

"The smart meters aren't doing what they were designed to do, so they're just causing inconvenience to consumers," said Tory critic Vic Fedeli

With files from The Canadian Press