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Neighbourhood Energy Utility
We got our first Enerpro bill and I’m starting to understand what all the uproar is about.

Here is what our bill looked like for April 23 – June 30 (69 days).

Charge Consumption Cost New Cost
(See Update #2 below)
Total $42.61 $30.84
Basic Charge $25.00 $19.00
HST $3.00 $0.00
Heating 1 kWh $0.04 $0.04
Hot Water 814 gallons
(3,081 litres)
$11.80 $11.80
Cold Water 544 gallons
(2,059 litres)
$2.77 $0.00

The problem isn’t that we payed $11.80 for hot water (I’ve always had hot water included in rent, but I expected it to cost about this much) or $2.77 for cold water (metering water consumption is new, but will be common practice in Vancouver soon). I’m happy to pay for what I use. I work for an energy monitoring software company, so I recognize the value metering plays in conservation efforts.

The problem is that the consumption charges on my bill are dwarfed by fixed charges. 2/3 of the total bill is for flat fees that are charged regardless of what I use. What a huge deterrent to conserve. I can’t believe I’ve been shaving with cold water. What was the point?! Even if I could find a way to cut my hot water consumption in half, my total bill would only go down by 14% because most of it is a huge flat fee that I have to pay regardless of how careful I am when I wash dishes or take a showers.

At first I thought that the $25 “basic charge” was the fee that Enerpro was charging for monitoring and administering the bills, and was shocked. I know that smart meters are expensive, but they’re not that expensive. After reading through documents provided by the Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility it seems like that basic charge is being used to pay for the expensive infrastructure that provides our heating and hot water – the waste heat recovery from sewage and solar thermal panels on the roofs. That makes me feel a bit better about the extra charges, but we were told when we moved in that energy bills would likely be lower because of all the fancy environmental features, not more expensive.

Our BC Hydro bill for the past month was $19.88. Which brings my total energy bill to around $40/month. I wouldn’t call that low, and it doesn’t include any heating right now, but it is still small compared to my cellphone and internet bills.
Waste Heat Recovery Solar Thermal Panels

Update #1: Since I wrote this, I received notice that “Enerpro Systems is currently working with COHO Management Services Society and the City of Vancouver and invoices are being held at this time.” We’ll see what that means.

Update #2: A working group has been setup to look at the metering and energy costs. In the meantime, we’ve been told that our bills for June-August will be waived, the fixed $12.50/month fee will be reduced to $9.50/month, HST would be removed from the cost, and cold water charges would be removed for 2 years. I’m glad they reduced the monthly fee and removed the HST. That reduces some of the fixed costs that were not tied to consumption. I’m actually disappointed by the decision to stop charging for cold water, even if it will save me money. I know billing for water is unheard of in Vancouver, but it was a minimal charge and encouraged people to conserve. I’ve updated the table above to show the new costs with the proposed changes. My new bill would be $30.84 (28% less then before), of which 60% would be a fixed cost.

I can understand why the people who are on fixed incomes are concerned about these bills, but for someone like me (who is also paying for a cellphone, internet access, and cable tv) my energy costs are still tiny compared to my other utility costs. And if I had to choose between cable tv and hot water, I know which one I’d choose.

The Georgia Straight has been writing about complaints made about heating costs, especially in the net-zero building. I haven’t had to pay for heating yet, so I’m not sure how severe those costs will be, but from what I understand of the mechanics of the heat-recovery system used, the efficiency of the system would be dependent on the number of occupants flushing warm water down the drains. Last winter, the Olympic Village was barely occupied, which may (and I’m just speculating here) have lead to less efficient operation and more expensive charges. Regardless of the heating system’s efficiency, each occupied unit would have heat leaking to unoccupied neighbours, increasing the heat required and probably leading to the complains about it being cold. Also, the net-zero building is supposed to be recovering heat from the grocery store below, but isn’t open yet. I’m guessing that more people in the village will reduce heating costs this winter, and once the grocery store opens it will drop even further.