09/24/2014 02:04 EDT | Updated 11/24/2014 05:59 EST

Quebec energy board cuts fees for smart-meter opt-out

Quebec’s energy board is forcing Hydro-Québec to slash the proposed fees charged to homeowners who opt to have the utility install a non-transmitting, manually read meter instead of a smart meter. 

Hydro-Québec's initial fee charged to those who wanted it to install a “non-communicating meter,” or one without a radio frequency, in place of a smart meter was $98.

In May, it lowered those fees to $48, in addition to an $8-a-month charge tacked on to power bills.

Several groups, including the consumer advocacy organization Union des Consommateurs, asked the provincial energy board to investigate.

In a ruling released today, the Régie de l'énergie found that even the reduced fees were too high and ordered Hydro-Québec to cut them by nearly 60 per cent.

Energy Minister Pierre Arcand said he was happy with the ruling, calling it a victory for consumers.

“We don’t need to penalize the consumer who use those kinds of meters,” he said.

Hydro-Québec would not comment on the ruling.

Energy analyst Marc-Olivier Moisan-Plante said Hydro-Québec likely set the fees higher than necessary in an effort to deter customers from refusing to have smart meters installed.

The ruling also includes a provision for customers who already opted out under the old fee structure. Hydro-Québec will have to refund them the difference, plus interest.

Hydro-Québec plans to replace 3.75 million analog meters across the province by 2018, for a total cost of close to a billion dollars.