Residents express concern while FortisBC moves forward with advanced meter program and health officials say no evidence of adverse effects.

 

As FortisBC continues to move forward with a plan to replace its aging analog meters with advanced meters to measure its customer’s energy consumption, a growing number of people are raising concern about the use of the meters.

To date FortisBC has exchanged about 22,000 of a planned 60,000 meters in Kelowna, replacing the old analog units with new advanced meters that have the capability of transmitting billing information to FortisBC using wireless technology.

While the company says it will make for more accurate readings and allow customers to better monitor their energy consumption, the radiofrequency radiation the units emit is at least part of the issue for people who say they don’t want a smart meter on their house.

Known as RF, radiofrequency radiation emitted by smart meters is the same signal that a cell phone puts out when in use. According to Health Canada, the difference is the amount of RF radiation in smart meters is several times below that of exposure from cell phones and well below existing Health Canada limits for exposure to the public.

There are other issues as well with smart meters. A similar program in Saskatchewan was cancelled by the government in that province after eight fires were found to be started in smart meters. And while the maker of the FortisBC advanced meter (Itron) is different from the manufacturer of the Saskatchewan meter, it’s not stopping people from standing up to voice concern.

FortisBC and other utilities that have moved to smart meters say the technology is safe and the advanced meters are needed to fully meet with standards laid out by the federal government body Measurement Canada.

As the program moves through the FortisBC customer base in the Okanagan, a Kelowna group is joining forces to try and educate people while at least one Kelowna family is considering going off the electricity grid completely.

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When Kelowna arborist and glass blower Sebastien Latour drops his two kids off at their Kelowna school he usually leaves them with something to think about.

A tradesman and a farmer, Latour is trying to instill an inquisitive nature in his children, wanting them to question things they are told.

“I tell them to question everything including what I just said,” said Latour. “I don’t want to raise guinea pigs. I want my kids to have critical thinking skills. I want my kids to be able to think and not just accept the information they are given. This is a corporate world and we have to question things.”

That critical thinking forms the basis of Latour’s opposition to a move to smart meters. He questions their safety, the reasoning for them and who is really benefitting financially from the change.

So while many residents in Black Mountain have already had FortisBC smart meters installed on their homes, Latour says he won’t be one of them. He has informed FortisBC he does not want the smart meter and he’s taking steps to be prepared to cut off his electricty entirely if the company goes ahead with its plan to install it.

“I think outside the box and I always have,” he said. “We’ve told Fortis we are not interested in the meter. We don’t want it connected to our home. We’ve told them if it comes to that we want to cancel our services. I feel very manipulated. The whole planet is being forced to be put on this smart meter grid. Who is beneffiing off this move?”

According to FortisBC, the move to the smart meters is necessary to meet new accuracy guidelines enforced by Measurement Canada which approves the meters. Meter readers will no longer be used and bills won’t be estimated as they were in the old system, improving the accuracy and specific energy use readings for customers.

“Customers can see in real time how much electricity they are using so we are hoping they can get an undestanding of how much they are using and when. We hope they will be empowered to make better choices,” said David Wylie, FortisBC corporate communications adviser. “We went through a public process with the B.C. Utilities Commission. Any customers who do have concerns about the meters can choose the radio-off option.”

But tell that to Sebastien Latour and he doesn’t accept it and he feels strongly enough that he is preparing his family to live without the use of electricity.

This winter Latour has installed a wood stove for heat and is replacing his oven range with a propane powered unit. For hot water, he plans an on-demand system also heated by propane and has replaced lights in the house with LED lights that will be run from a bank of eight solar panels he will purchase.

“We’re looking at all kinds of alternative energy,” he said. “‘I’ve got no other choice. People are not thinking as much as they need to. Take some time to do some research and don’t blindly accept what you are told.”

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When smart meters first came into the public eye and were being installed in Vancouver a number of years ago, UBC professor John Spinelli was used to fielding calls on the topic. As the head of cancer control research at the B.C. Cancer Agency, Spinelli has been involved in several studies on the topic of radiofrequency radiation. Currently there is a large study underway on cell phones and the risk of brain tumours specifically in adolescents and youth.

The number of questions he was getting prompted him, along with other scientists involved in cancer research to prepare a statement on smart meters and the risks of cancer. The statement outlined several studies to date that have been done on the use of cell phones and the possibility they cause cancer and how smart meters fit into the equation. A 2011 study done by the International Agency for Research on Cancer said while there was little direct human data on those with more than 20 years of cell phone use, there was no evidence cell phone use causes brain tumours.

The report also concluded that, “although there remains some uncertainty, the trend in the accumulating evidence was increasingly against the hypothesis that (RF radiation from) mobile phone use can cause brain tumours in adults.”

In an interview with the Kelowna Capital News on Thursday, Spinelli said the fact smart meters emit a much lower signal than cell phones means the current evidence suggests there are no health concerns.

“It makes sense people are concerned but I would try to reassure people that the evidence suggests that (smart meters) just don’t have any adverse effects,” said Spinelli. “Cell phones are the really worrisome ones. There are a lot of people looking at the (cell phone) question because we think it’s really important. The smart meter output is low and intermittent and there is really no evidence it would have any health affects.”

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In Kelowna, a large group of people opposed to the smart meters are meeting over the next three Thursday’s in a move to try and educate the public about the issue. With over 1,000 people who have signed up for a newsletter or joined the group, known as Kelowna Safe Meters, it’s clear some members of the public are not just standing by without asking questions and trying to find solutions. The group has written to the City of Kelowna, taken ads out in local newspapers and continues to hold educational meetings on the topic.

All they are asking is that people get educated.

“We’re trying to say wake up, shake your head, this is harmful,” said Rozjael Young, one of the organizers of the group. “There are people concerned for different reasons: Health, safety, costs. I think we need to stand up as individuals and get educated. Open your mind. We need to stand up so we can continue to make choices for ourselves.”

The group will meet at the Lutheran Church in Kelowna Feb. 26, March 5 and 12 at 7 p.m.

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