As many as 1.7 million Hydro-Quebec customers have made the switch to smart meters – but the devices have many critics complaining about skyrocketing bills.

In some cases, customers say their bills have doubled or tripled since smart meters were installed.

“They complain about doubling and even tripling the usual amount of the bill,” said Marie-Michelle Poisson of Refusons les compteurs, part of a growing movement refusing to make the switch to smart meters.  

Unlike the old meters, she says the digital meters are unreadable so customers can't monitor their energy consumption and compare it to their bills.

Their complaints to Hydro-Quebec have gone nowhere, she said.

“We need an independent inquiry,” she said.

The claims aren't easy to prove, partly because it's difficult to gauge consumption, but other explanations could be Hydro rate increases or simply the weather – such as last year's long cold winter.

Similar smart meter overbilling concerns have been raised in Ontario, where its ombudsman is investigating some 8000 complaints.

Poisson said there are few ways to protest in Quebec.

“Write or call the provincial deputy, because here in Quebec we don't have an ombudsman. The Protecteur du citoyen cannot investigate Hydro-Quebec issues,” she said.

Despite the controversy surrounding smart meters, Hydro-Quebec said its rollout is going well and only 0.5 per cent of its customers have opted out.

Out of 1.7 million smart meter installations, Hydro-Quebec spokesperson Isabelle Therren said there have been only a few complaints of overbilling, and have not found a single case of proven overbilling.

“In no case in each of the dozen or so cases we are investigating – none of them was a result of a problem with the installation of a new meter,” she said, adding that the meters Hydro-Quebec uses are not the same as those used in Ontario or Saskatchewan.

Though the new meters can't be read, customers can follow their energy consumption online.

Consumption is what causes the high bills she said, not the technology.

“Each meter is tested by Measurement Canada and on top of that we do a lot of tests to make sure these meters are appropriate for our climate,” said Therren.

Hydro-Quebec plans to install 4 million smart meters at Quebec homes and businesses by 2018.