New Brunswick

NB Power fights back against smart-meter critics

NB Power lawyer John Furey made a final push to win approval of the utility's smart meter plan in front of the Energy and Utilities Board on Tuesday, calling the new technology necessary and arguing it will generate far more benefits than earlier claimed.

Smart-meter plan will generate greater benefits than previously claimed in front of EUB, lawyer says

NB Power lawyer John Furey makes a final pitch for smart meters to the Energy and Utilities Board. (Philip Drost/CBC)

NB Power lawyer John Furey made a final push to win approval of the utility's smart meter plan in front of the Energy and Utilities Board on Tuesday, calling the new technology necessary and arguing it will generate far more benefits than company executives were disclosing earlier in the hearing.

"Grid modernization is inevitable," Furey told the hearing during closing arguments on the smart meter issue.

"This is coming. It will be necessary. The board is not faced with a decision as to whether to do this or not over the long term. It's really faced with a decision around [when]." 

NB Power is in the middle of its annual rate hearing, which is being held in two parts.  

On Tuesday, final arguments began on two of the issues being considered, including whether NB Power should be allowed to buy and install 350,000 smart meters provincewide.

The meters are capable of transmitting individual customer consumption data back to NB Power in real time, which the utility says will allow for a number of innovations in pricing and service and help it nudge customers to shift their peak electrical demand enough to avoid building new generators.

2027 deadline

J.D. Irving lawyer Christopher Stewart was unmoved by NB Power's argument for smart meters and said he will be asking the Energy and Utilities Board to deny the application. (Philip Drost/CBC)

Furey said NB Power will have to invest in new electrical supply by 2027 if it cannot reduce and reshape demand enough by then.

"The risk of approving now, we would submit, is very small," he said. "The risk associated with starting too late is much larger."

In a lengthy address to the board, Furey directly challenged arguments made last week by U.S. energy expert Tim Woolf that NB Power's case for smart meters is weak and and relies on inflated benefits that will not materialize. 

Woolf, who was hired by the EUB to evaluate the plan and other issues called it "a very uncertain and a risky investment" and recommended it be rejected.

Furey asked for that analysis to be rejected instead.

"NB Power believes (Woolf) has fundamentally misconstrued the evidence," said Furey.  

"The cost savings are real and they're reasonably forecast."

But Furey went even further, saying the benefits of switching to smart meters are even greater than the utility claimed during the hearing since NB Power failed to document several advantages of adopting the technology in its own evidence.

New benefit estimate

Stewart will address the board Wednesday as final arguments about smart meters wrap up. (Philip Drost/CBC)

Originally, NB Power produced figures showing the acquisition of smart meters would cost it $122.7 million but generate benefits of only $121.4 million, an overall loss on the investment.. 

Tuesday, Furey revised those numbers significantly, recasting the project as a clear financial winner.

"There is this additional evidence NB Power has not identified all available benefits," he said.

"NB Power believes that the present value of potential benefits can now be stated to be $154 million."

Furey also took time to reject concerns that smart meters emit an unsafe level of radio frequency emissions. 

"It would take years, years, years of exposure to an rf meter to equate to the rf exposure that a person would get from a 10-minute phone call on a cellphone," he said.

Closing arguments on the smart meter plan as well as NB Power's energy-efficiency proposals continue Wednesday morning.

Up first is J.D. Irving Ltd. lawyer Christopher Stewart, who already signalled he was unmoved by Furey's presentation and will be opposing the smart meter purchase.

"We submit that the application for the AMI [smart meter] program be denied," said Stewart shortly before the hearing was adjourned for the day.

"There is not sufficient evidence in the record to allow us, and more importantly you, to draw any other conclusion."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

now