NB Power asks EUB to reconsider smart meters

NB Power is asking for a second chance for smart meters and has submitted a new business plan to the Energy and Utilities Board to help make the case.

The utility's application asks for approval of the $92-million smart-meter project that was denied last year.

The EUB, which must approve the spending, previously said the cost of installing and operating the meters outweighed the benefit to the public.

But the utility has spent the last 12 months putting dollar figures on benefits that were not quantified in the previous application, said Lori Clark, NB Power's senior vice-president operations.

She said NB Power is saying the meters will save New Brunswick ratepayers $31 million more than previously calculated over the next 15 years, the lifespan of the meters.

The utility's original submission had the costs outweighing the benefits by around $1 million. But during the hearings in February 2018, NB Power changed its calculations to show the budget would break even over the life of the project.

The EUB was not convinced that would be the case.

"We've taken some time and used other consultants … that work in other jurisdictions to help quantify some of those benefits" Clark said. 

The meters can calculate energy usage more accurately, transmit it wirelessly to the utility and provide real-time readings to the customers and NB Power, Clark said. She said 80 per cent of Canadian meters are smart.

Robert Jones/CBC

The $31 million in additional savings come from quicker restoration, since the utility won't have to rely on customers to report outages, alerts to the customer when their usage is high and remote connections and disconnections for renters.

"When we don't have to roll out trucks, [there is] obviously less CO2 that we're emitting as well," she said. "So it's good for the environment and good for our customers."

Some people opposed to the meters expressed health concerns because of the wireless capabilities of the meters, but the EUB was convinced there is no public-health risk.

Clark said approval of the project is "essential for us."

"It's really important that we get this fundamental building block in place so we can continue with the smart grid," she said.

When the EUB denied the first application, board members did not deter the utility from applying again but with a more persuasive business plan.

Proving a good business case

Public intervener Heather Black previously opposed NB Power's smart meter plan. She said this time around she will be scrutinizing the utility's business plan just as closely. However, she said the dollar figure on savings is a good sign.

"At first blush, having a proposal that NB Power says will have a net benefit of $31 million is a better proposal to submit to the board than one that says it will break even," she said.

NB Power/Submitted

"But that proposal still has to be subjected to, you know, testing and evaluation and review by all the interveners and the board."

The EUB and NB Power will meet to set a schedule on Aug. 26, and the final oral hearing will be in January of next year, Black said.

"After the oral hearing, then the board takes its decision, which usually takes several weeks," Black said. "And so it will probably be the late winter before before the board comes to a decision."