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Meter mixup results in years of inflated B.C. Hydro bills for James Bay woman

Liz Bicknell has been charged for her duplex neighbour’s power since 2012 because her smart meter was reading the wrong unit
Liz Bicknell at her James Bay duplex, where she spent $32,000 installing a heat pump and solar panels. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Liz Bicknell considers herself an environmentalist and thought she was doing her part by installing a heat pump in her new James Bay duplex in 2011.

Last November, she also installed $17,000 in solar panels.

Oddly, neither measure, which cost her a total of $32,000, never made any difference to the B.C. Hydro bills that arrived every month, which just kept getting higher.

In fact, her power bills were substantially more than those of her duplex neighbours, who use baseboard heating. When they started comparing bills, both knew something was amiss in the wiring of their duplex.

At one point, Bicknell’s monthly bill was more than $400 and her neighbour’s was just over $100.

Bicknell said she contacted B.C. Hydro on many occasions over the years, but never heard back. Then, in January, Bicknell finally got someone to ­investigate.

Turns out, over 12 years, B.C. Hydro’s so-called smart meter was reading the wrong units — the neighbours were getting Bicknell’s low bills, and Bicknell was getting their higher bills.

Bicknell said a B.C. Hydro technician came out in April to switch over the meters to read the proper homes.

B.C. Hydro said Friday the meters in the James Bay duplex were inadvertently placed in the wrong stands when new smart meters were installed in 2012.

Spokeswoman Mora Scott called the situation a “very rare occurrence.”

“We have more than two million meters in our system and it’s only happened a fraction of a fraction of a percentage.”

Scott said 0.003 per cent of meters are mistakenly placed, something that only happens in new builds where contractors build bases that are mislabelled.

“Of course, we’re very sorry that this has happened, it’s a human error, and we’ve reached out to the customer,” said Scott.

B.C. Hydro initially offered Bicknell $5,100 in credit, the amount the utility said she’s overpaid since 2012. The total includes the $4,400 worth of power she didn’t use, as well as the power produced from her solar panels that went on the grid — plus $670 in interest.

Scott said senior ­managers are offering Bicknell a cash payout, if she prefers. Bicknell’s duplex neighbours who received the lower billing since 2012 will only be charged for their full usage from the past six months, in compliance with B.C. Hydro’s regulations, said Scott.

Bicknell said she won’t accept a credit, and won’t be forced into a quick settlement.

“The whole thing has been very stressful and very ­upsetting,” said the retired civil servant. “Hydro has been very nonchalant about it all.”

Bicknell wants a settlement from B.C. Hydro of closer to $24,000 — what she figures it will cost to replace her heat pump after the recommended 15 years.

She said she hasn’t received a power bill since April.

“When the technician came to do the breaker check and he found the problem, he said it happens more often that you think,” said Bicknell. “You have to wonder how many other ­people have been through this.”

After taking her story to the media, she said she is getting lots of support from people she doesn’t know. “I’m going to fight because I don’t want this to ­happen to anyone else,” said Bicknell.

She advises anyone who lives in a duplex or multi-unit home to “check your meters and get them to do a breaker test.”

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