White Rock man's hydro bill tripled since 2010

Colin Murray is disputing his hydro bill after noticing a significant jump in the total; one he believes is at least partly the result of a malfunctioning meter. - Tracy Holmes
Colin Murray is disputing his hydro bill after noticing a significant jump in the total; one he believes is at least partly the result of a malfunctioning meter.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes

A White Rock man is encouraging others to double-check their hydro bills after discovering what he describes as “questionable”  increases on his.

Colin Murray said the charges on his account – which more than tripled in 2013 over 2010 – are such that he has asked the B.C. Utilities Commission to investigate.

“I’m just baffled,” Murray said. “There’s something wrong here.”

But a BC Hydro spokesperson says the discrepancy is simply the result of the utility estimating Murray’s usage five times in a row last year – due to a reduction in meter-reading staff since April 2013 and the fact he has an analog meter.

An increase in Murray’s power use also contributed to the billing boost, Mora Scott told Peace Arch News by email.

“As a result, Mr. Murray received a catch-up bill because he has been paying for less electricity than he was using over the past 12 months,” Scott writes. “Because we don’t know how customers use the power we provide, it’s difficult to say for certain what may have caused the increase.”

Murray is among about 2,000 holdout customers throughout White Rock and Surrey who have declined a smart meter.

He insists his consumption habits have not changed to a degree that would justify the jump, and suspects his meter – which BC Hydro, shortly after he started questioning his billing, advised him is expired – is to blame.

He said for years, his bills have averaged $15-$20 per month.

In 2010, his bi-monthly bills averaged $31.30; they edged up in 2011, to $31.75, and again in 2012, to $35.64. In 2013, however, the bump was more substantial, to an average of $54.73 per month – or $109.46 bimonthly.

“The (2013 charges) really bugged me because I couldn’t understand how my usage had doubled,” said Murray, who has been off work for the past 2½ years due to injury.

“My usage is very minimal.”

The increase meant his annual total climbed to $328.40 in 2013, from $213.81 in 2012.

The March 3 catch-up bill pushed the 2013 sum past $700.

Scott said a new $35-per-month charge since December 2013 is because Murray opted to keep his analog meter (the difference between that interim rate and the $32.40 that was recently approved by BCUC will be refunded).

She noted that the catch-up bill was adjusted and reissued in April, with the catch-up portion “spread out over the 12 months it was used.”

“We understand these catch-up bills can come as a surprise to our customers and that’s why we offer payment plans that are very flexible,” Scott writes.

Murray said he successfully argued to have his billing frozen until July, to prevent late fees and interest from building up while his case is evaluated. Now, he wants his analog meter tested, but worries that what he believes is sporadic malfunctions may elude detection. That means he would be out another $100, as the testing fee is reimbursed only if the meter is determined faulty.

In BC Hydro’s response to BCUC, the utility expresses confidence that Murray’s billing is correct. He has until June 24 to respond before BCUC delves into the situation.

In the meantime, he hopes his experience will prompt others to keep a closer tab on their bills. Many pay without questioning, he said.

“They just pay what comes to them, trusting that it’s fair.”

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