By Charlie Macaluso

Ontario’s electricity distributors have entered a critical phase in the implementation of the province’s Smart Metering Initiative (SMI) as major urban centres begin the rollout of time-of-use (TOU) tiered pricing to their customers. The provincial government has targeted one million households to be on TOU rates by next summer, with more than 3.5 million residential and small business customers to make that transition by 2011.

SMI SUPPORTS KEY ELEMENTS OF ONTARIO’S GREEN ENERGY AND GREEN ECONOMY ACT
This important chapter in the smart metering initiative comes as new groundbreaking legislation – the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009 – is also being implemented in the province. The new Act represents fundamental legislative reform of Ontario’s power sector and contains new opportunities that encompass a wide spectrum of new roles and responsibilities for distributors in renewable and distributed generation, smart grid development, and delivery of conservation and demand management (CDM).

The smart meter initiative is intended to support key aspects of the new legislation. Smart meters represent an initial step in the creation of smart local grids that will transmit user information freely between customers and distributors and harness advanced technologies to facilitate the connection of small scale generators – central components of the new legislation. A provincial policy regarding smart grid objectives and development is expected from the government later this year.

METER DATA MANAGEMENT AND METER DATA REPOSITORY IS NOW OPERATIONAL
Ontario’s Smart Metering System Implementation Program (SMSIP) is providing the delivery framework and is being facilitated in the province by the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).

To facilitate the transition to TOU billing, the IESO has led the development of a single Meter Data Management and Meter Data Repository (MDM/R). The MDM/R is a key piece of IT infrastructure and is central to Ontario’s smart meter initiative. Once a distributor’s systems are fully integrated with the MDM/R, “raw” consumption data will be delivered by the utilities to the central repository, “scrubbed” and returned in a bill-ready format for billing and customer care purposes.

The process of integrating the province’s distributors into a central repository has proven to be a complex operational process, and full integration is expected to take a couple of years.

FIRST 1 MILLION CUSTOMERS ARE TO TRANSITION TO TOU PRICING BY SUMMER OF 2010
Select communities in two Ontario cities – Milton and Newmarket – are currently using TOU rates, and are expected to be among the first distributors to bill their entire customer base through the MDM/R.

Importantly, three major urban centres have also begun or are poised to begin transitioning their customers. Toronto Hydro-Electric System Ltd. services Ontario’s largest city and is the first major urban centre to undertake the largest rollout of TOU rates in North America. The company’s objective is to have all of its 680,000 customers on TOU rates by August 2010.

PowerStream Inc. services a customer base of over 315,000 customers in communities north of the greater Toronto area. The company announced its TOU schedule earlier this summer and began to migrate customers. The transition is expected to be phased in and completed in early 2011.

Horizon Utilities Corp. has a service territory that delivers power to 230,000 customers in two major cities on the south shores of Lake Ontario – Hamilton and St. Catharines. Earlier this summer, Horizon also announced a phasedin timetable for the transition to TOU pricing, slated to being in January 2010 and completed by year’s end.

The momentum is building as several other utilities in the province are expected to begin migration of their customers to TOU rates over the coming months.

TOU COMMUNICATION RESOURCE TOOLS ARE ESSENTIAL TO A SMOOTH IMPLEMENTATION
Ontario’s Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure has worked closely with electricity distribution representatives, the EDA, the Ontario Energy Board and the IESO to develop comprehensive customer communication and marketing materials to support the transition to a TOU rate structure. This approach has helped to ensure consistent messaging that will carry across the province and increase public awareness about the merits and key messages that support smart metering and TOU pricing. The development of toolkit resources such as residential, small business and farm TOU welcome packages, outdoor, radio, print and on-line advertising, multilingual fact sheets, and pamphlets that address bill impacts are tools that are assisting distributors as they roll out TOU billing to their customers.

These preparatory communication/ education tools are part and parcel of multi-year communication strategies that individual distributors are developing and implementing across the province. The importance of sharing best practices and information between distributors is expected to continue to be a critical component of the rollout of TOU through to its completion in 2011.