THE CON OF THOSE 'STUPID' SMART METERS
Got a delayed Christmas "gift" the other day from Hydro One, the fast-buck sellers of electricity in a captive province.
The latest bills arrive for my cottage on a lovely point in the Trent River south of Havelock, and for my very modest "bunkie" which is on the small neighbouring lot which used to be owned by an old drinker until it was bought in self-defence by the previous owners.
The bills announced that my meters had been "read" on Dec. 25, 2015, and covered the period until March 25 this year. I relaxed when I glanced at that because I haven't stepped on the properties since last November.
Hydro One was in the news the same day because the province has sold another 15% of it into the stock market, five months after the first bit was sold for $20.50.
The current price is just over $23.50, meaning it has been doing better than a lot of stocks on the TSE. My broker recommended I buy it, and he hasn't been recommending stocks, but I said no because Hydro One is a notorious opaque outfit which uses cheating meters and has been criticized harshly by everyone from the former premier to the former ombudsman.
Gather the last stock offering hasn't been snapped up which is understandable since buying Hydro One is a little like buying a ticket to a lunch with skunks at the local dump.
I was taught long ago that you didn't buy stocks in companies that you and many people didn't like which have been criticized for inappropriate treatment of their customers.
There has been a distrust of Hydro since the 1940s, particularly by farmers enraged by the cost of poles down their lanes. As a political reporter, I quickly learned that the various elements of Hydro were considered fat and wasteful and difficult.
I have written many columns and blogs about Hydro One's glaring contempt for its customers - and I throw in the Toronto municipal power outfit which screws up most of the outages.
At least last year I got value for my $1,428.24 that I paid in the city for my power. The comparison with my cottage bills is laughable since they totalled $1,152.73 for me being there several days most weeks for six months. The bill for the bunkie was $340.42 even though it was used only 10 nights at most.
In a blog titled Blowing Ontario's Fuse on March 18, 2014, I complained about a standby fee in winter for each cottage which was then $75.28. Now it has gone up $36.14.
As a columnist and editor for many years, I am familiar with the squabbling over meters since deadbeats are notorious for cheating on utility bills if they bother to pay them at all.
But their inaccuracy has become legendary.
I have kept every Hydro bill for the cottages because they are always suspect. There was the year when my bill for the bunkie was three times the bill for the main cottage when the bunkie hadn't been used except for one weekend.
There have always been talk about provincial probing of the faulty meters and dishonourable conduct of Hydro One but in the end nothing ever seems to happen.
No wonder there is frustration out on the concession roads and in Cottage Country which produces bitter lawn signs about cheating meters. I have written about the two women whose sign grumbled about not even getting dinner before they were screwed by Hydro One.
It is bizarre that some employees at Hydro One are so dumb that they pretend they have read my meters on the holiest holiday in the year. I suppose that it's some computer doing it, or trying to do it, but I didn't bother to try to find out because dealing with electric utilities in this country is like extracting potable water out of a swamp.
Since it seems rather obvious judging from past behaviour that neither the Liberal government nor Hydro One are about to soften these charges when Hydro isn't even being used for months, I will have to stop this wastage of hundreds of dollars.
The simplest move is to take the power out of the bunkie. Since 90% of the activity from people staying there revolves around the main cottage, why give Hydro $340.42 a year for some night use? As someone who lived on a farm where there was no power, lamps and candles are not exotic to me.
Some readers will wonder why I don't just run all the power through one meter. Except the red tape and expense when you want to do that is quite high. When I did a major improvement to the main cottage, the very competent contractor ended up doing the wiring himself because the electrician just didn't show up after quoting a figure that shocked everyone but the contractor's brother who had just paid a ransom for wiring his new home.
And they were local, not city folk who are "taken" too often in Cottage Country.
Guess that electrician was trained by Hydro One!
Too bad the inept Grits at Queen's Park haven't installed a circuit breaker in their dealings with the pygmies that now look after the electricity in this province which was built on the back of efficient and inexpensive generation from water dams that was famous throughout the rest of North America.