The B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre says BC Hydro disconnection rates have skyrocketed since smart meters were installed, leaving thousands of low-income families without power.
Spokesperson Sarah Khan says last year more than 30,000 people were disconnected because they couldn't pay their power bill. In 2013, only 5,000 were disconnected.
"Families with children have no heat or light. They're not just cold but not able to do homework as families struggle to pay the money," Khan said.
Khan says smart meters have made it easier to cut off electricity because it's done electronically.
"The smart meters, of course, are allowing BC Hydro to connect much more easily because they no longer need to send a crew out, so they no longer need to deal with the human element of disconnecting power," Khan said.
Rate redesign application filed
The BCPIAC obtained the information about power cuts as part of its involvement with a B.C. Utilities Commission proceeding for BC Hydro's most recent rate redesign application, which it filed in September 2015.
The proceeding is scheduled for a public hearing this August, and the BCPIAC is representing a coalition of seven anti-poverty, disability, and seniors' rights groups.
The organization is asking BC Hydro to implement a low-income energy assistance program, including customer service rules for low-income customers.
Khan said hydro customers who struggle to pay their power bill are penalized again with reconnection and late-payment fees.
She also points out that BC Hydro rates have increased by more than 50 per cent in the past 10 years and are projected to keep on going up.
"We think that the rising rates are correlated with the increased number of people who are getting disconnection orders," Khan said.
BC Hydro says its credit agents conduct a manual review before they cuts power to any household. It also said reconnection fees have dropped to $30 from $125.
The power provider does also have a program for low-income families: they can apply for "free energy-saving products and professional advice" to help them save costs.
With files from Angela Sterritt