New Brunswick

NB Power launches PR campaign for revived smart meter plan

NB Power is going on a public relations campaign to garner support for its smart meter plan.

The utility plans to reintroduce its smart meter plan for approval later this year

NB Power president and CEO Gaëtan Thomas says the utility is going to have more, well-outlined savings in its smart meter plan this year. (CBC)

NB Power is going on a public relations campaign to garner support for its smart meter plan.

The utility is planning public consultations before it brings the $122-million smart meter plan back to the Energy and Utilities Board some time this year.

The board rejected the plan last year, saying the benefits of installing and operating the wireless meters do not outweigh the cost to consumers.

NB Power president and CEO Gaëtan Thomas said the utility has revised its plan to include more accurate savings figures and is planning to conduct public consultation with municipalities to get some input — and maybe change people's mind on the meters.

"There's nothing [stopping] us from talking to our customers and get some feedback," he said. "And when more people understand the benefits, there will be — I believe — some positive intervention when we present the case next time."

In July, Thomas said the utility was headed back to the drawing board to make a stronger business case for smart meters with the EUB's notes in mind.

Then-Energy and Resource Development Minister Rick Doucet said he expects NB Power to be business savvy, since it operates independently from government.

Doucet said the province would review the plan to make sure "NB Power is properly delivering on its mandate from New Brunswickers."

"When NB Power wants to invest money, it needs to demonstrate very clearly that its spending will benefit ratepayers," he said.

Meters and rates

Thomas said smart meters can calculate energy usage more accurately, transmit it wirelessly to the utility and allow customers to plan their energy use better during the day.  

He said the smart meter plan was presented last year at the same time as the rate increase plan. That weakened NB Power's standing because people saw it as an excuse for NB Power to hike rates.

Public intervener Heather Black says she rejected the smart meter plan last year because the benefits did not outweigh the cost to consumers. (Robert Jones/CBC NEWS)

"People thought that the rate increase was because of the smart meters. The rate increase actually was a very small portion that was related to smart meters," he said. "A lot of people thought that it was an NB Power advantage, that it would cost a lot of money up front."

That's what Thomas said he's hoping to counteract with meetings with municipalities and local service district leaders. This year, the utility is presenting its rate increase application separately from its smart meter plan.

"They're not a huge investment in one year. They're over time, and the impact on rates is positive over time," he said.

Dollar figure attached to savings

When the EUB rejected the plan, it did not deter the utility from applying again.

Utility public intervener Heather Black said the numbers simply didn't add up last year, and she will still be scrutinizing the cost-to-benefit details this time around.

"NB Power would have to demonstrate that the benefit of the project from the perspective of ratepayers outweighs the costs when looking at that analysis from a long-term view over the lifetime of the smart meters," she said.

Gaëtan Thomas says smart meters can calculate energy usage more accurately and can allow customers to plan their energy use better during the day. (CBC)

Thomas said the utility has done more research and was able to attach a dollar figure to the savings that were mentioned in the plan last year but not costed out.

For example, he said the utility was "conservative" when detailing how much power waste the meters can reduce.

In that plan, he said the meters would reduce power waste by 0.4 per cent, but they have "new information" that shows power savings would be one or two per cent.

"That in itself will turn the business case from minus $1 million ... to something like over 10 million [in savings]," he said.

He said NB Power couldn't include this in the old plan because there was not enough data available.

He said the utility will bring forward the smart meter request "when we're ready."

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