Fiona Taylor

Smart or “not so smart” meters?

Fiona Taylor and Harper Hadden of BC Hydro held a meeting at the Fort St. James Legion on September 20 to speak to the community about the new smart meters soon to be installed on all homes in the province.

BC Hydro spoke at a recent public meeting about the benefits of smart meters, but not everyone is convinced.

Fiona Taylor and Harper Hadden of BC Hydro held a meeting at the Fort St. James Legion on September 20 to speak to the community about the new smart meters soon to be installed on all homes in the province.

Homes in the area have already begun to be changed over to the new digitized system, one which BC Hydro says will be good for the system and therefore the province, but one which has a number of people protesting outside of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities  (UBCM) conference in Vancouver last week.

One of those people was Una St. Clair, the executive director of the Citizens for Safe Technology Society.

At the recent meeting Taylor, the deputy project officer for the smart metering and infrastructure program extolled the virtues of smart meters.

The cost for the program is over $1 billion, but because of the savings BC Hydro expects through reduction of electricity theft, they project a net benefit of $520 million over 20 years.

St. Clair, on the other hand, claims the smart meters are nothing but a sweet deal for the U.S., with the new meters replacing inexpensive and long-lasting analog meters manufactured in Ontario with expensive ones manufactured in Asia and assembled in the U.S..

The new meters are also shorter-lived according to St. Clair, predicted to need replacement in less than half the 50-year life of the analog meter.

St. Clair also believes BC Hydro will move to a time-of-use metering system, which will cost consumers more for the same amount of electricity and penalize businesses which have no real choice when they use the energy they need for their business.

However, Taylor said BC Hydro has no plans to implement time-of-use billing, and customers should expect to pay the same for the electricity they are using after the smart meter is installed.

Taylor also said the meters will allow customers to sell power back into the grid which they generate through solar-power generation and wind, helping to encourage alternative power production.

Taylor also gave examples of the low-level of radiation associated with the smart meters, which transmit the information using wireless technology.

According to Taylor, the power of the signal at 20 cm from the meter is 1/100 the power output of a cell phone.

St. Clair, however takes issue with how the measurements were taken by BC Hydro and said they were not looking at whole-body exposure and therefore were comparing “apples to oranges” when comparing the cell phone radiation levels to those of the meters.

She also called Dr. Perry Kendall into question. Kendall is B.C.’s provincial health officer, and has come forward in support of the smart meters.

St. Clair called Perry “the mouthpiece for the Liberal Party” and said the party has a vested interest in wireless technology given the lucrative nature of the industry.

St. Clair has been lobbying against smart meters not only because she sees it as a democratic rights issue, given people don’t have the opportunity to opt out of the program if they have specific concerns, but also for very personal reasons.

St. Clair is one of a number of people she says have been medically diagnosed with electro-hypersensitivity disorder. This means she is highly sensitive to wireless microwave radiation. St. Clair said she suffered from migraines, dizziness, heart irregularities, and loss of short-term memory. She discovered the symptoms went away when the wireless internet was turned off in her home and she now lives free of wireless technology at home, including cell phones.

Taylor said there are options for people who are sensitive to the radiation, such as locating the meter on a pole a short distance from the home or on a garage where people would not spend much time, but there will be no option to keep the old analog meter.

St. Clair has been protesting outside the UBCM, and her organization had asked to allow independent experts to present to the conference, but she said they were denied the request.

BC Hydro was a sponsor of the conference, but the UBCM has already publicly dismissed claims this could pose a conflict of interest given the Merrit council resolution the attendees will be voting on to put a moratorium on the installation of the smart meters until the problems with them are “independently assessed and acceptable alternatives can be made available at no added cost to the consumer.”

Some homes in the Fort have already had smart meters installed and while questions were raised at the public meeting, everyone seemed somewhat satisfied with the answers Taylor provided, many of which centred around time-of-use billing and potential bill increases after installation.