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HomeBusinessExclusive: BC Hydro refunded $7.6M last year but some smart meter bills arrived three months late

Exclusive: BC Hydro refunded $7.6M last year but some smart meter bills arrived three months late

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Bob Mackin

An internal audit of BC Hydro billing found the public utility issued 17,000 refund cheques totalling $7.6 million last year.

The June 5 report, obtained by theBreaker.news under the freedom of information laws, said 87% of refunds were under $600. The largest refund was $187,000 to a commercial customer.

BC Hydro has 2 million customer accounts, of which 1.8 million are residential. For the 10 months ended Jan. 31, it received $1.67 billion revenue from residential customers and $1.596 billion from light industrial and commercial customers.

BC Hydro headquarters (BC Hydro)

The audit was the first of its type since 2011 and happened after the May 1, 2018 expiry of BC Hydro’s contract with Accenture, which handled billing, operations and technology after a controversial 2003 outsourcing deal under the BC Liberal government. It was supposed to cost $1.45 billion over a decade, but, by the sixth year, BC Hydro had already paid $1.17 billion.

The new audit found the majority of bills were automatically produced on a daily basis using actual meter readings or accurate estimates, but the potential for fraud and gaps in controls mean procedures for adjustments and refunds need strengthening. 

The audit said that smart meters improved billing accuracy and most bills were generated without manual intervention.

“Controls are in place to ensure customer and meter data inputs are accurate and timely,” the audit said. “However a small number of communicating meters are not being billed due to account data input errors with some resulting in revenue loss.”

In January 2019, there were 253 communicating meters outstanding for more than 90 days and not billed. More recent numbers include approximately 100 meters outstanding for over 90 days.

“A reconciliation is not in place to ensure all scheduled meter readings are received and invoiced, and all exceptions are addressed for billing completeness.”

Itron OpenWay smart meter (BC Hydro)

Approximately 2 million smart meters are installed and there have been no major interface failures in the past 12 months. Meter readings are received and stored three times each day, which enables billing for 50,000 to 80,000 meter readings over a 20-day cycle.

Meanwhile, results of a BC Hydro employee engagement survey by PWC found the 5,000 respondents are split on whether to trust those atop the Crown corporation.

“Only 54% of employees in operations trust that executive leadership will do what they say they will. do,” said the report to BC Hydro’s executive team. “This score has improved 5% since last year, but still shows an opportunity for clear communications and engagement that will build the trust within this business group.”

Forty-one percent of those surveyed complained about poor, inefficient or broken processes, 39% said there were inadequate staffing levels and 25% cited a lack of clarity around the decision-making process.

When asked if they would feel comfortable speaking up, without fear of retaliation, if they witnessed disrespectful behaviour at work (such as exclusion, harassment, bullying), 11% said no.

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