Merrit Newspaper Editor John O’Connor  interviews BC Hydro chief project officer Gary Murphy, June 9, 2011. Includes comments on the fluctuating marijuana grow operation numbers BC Hydro has used in justifying implementation of smart meters, health concerns over the meters, possibility of using ITRON’s wired system, and implementation schedule.
Pictured in the photo is Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan, official energy critic, at the BC Legislature with protesters.

Transcript from Video :

JO: I have a few questions about the Smart Meters.  Are they starting to be installed here in BC? I know it said summer of 2011.

G.M:    Yeah, we expect our first meter to be installed in July, John.

Jo: That’s going to be province wide,    what’s the completion date?

G.M:    End of December, 2012. We’ll have the vast majority of them completed.

JO: Are there any areas that will be exempt?

G.M:    Our intention is to cover 99% of our customer.  We think that’s reasonable. There’s always that last 1% that is very expensive and it just doesn’t become cost effective.  We have a couple of areas of the province that are very remote that we won’t be able to cover.

JO: With billing, I understand the intention is not to access any customer’s real time consumption.  Can BC Hydro guarantee that’s not going to occur in the future?  Is that a permanent thing?

G.M:    As far as I know, that’s a permanent thing.  We don’t have technical access to the information.  If the customer had an in-home feedback device on their home because they were interested in how much energy they were consuming on a real time basis, they would be the only ones who could see that. We would not have access to that.  It’s  all encrypted and all that other stuff,  much like on-line banking.

JO: So only customers who chose to take advantage of in-home feedback devices will have access?

G.M:    To real-time data like we just talked about?  But every customer who has a Smart Meter will be able to have, free of charge, access to a portal, a website that will allow them to see their individual usage on an hour by hour basis.

JO: So that’s not considered a real time usage that BC Hydro will have access to?

G.M:    That information is what we will be basing our bills on in the future, so yes,  we clearly need that.

JO: What was the reason for going with the wireless meter as opposed to a wired meter?

G; Good question, John. We looked at a variety of technologies that would best fit the make- up of our province, the unique characteristics of the topography and the customer density. We evaluated actually a power line carrier [PLC] technology,    but the cost was simply prohibitive, John, they were orders of magnitude,  100’s of millions  of dollars  more, frankly to use that technology that the one that we employed. Also, that technology had significant limitations with regard to some of the additional smart grid functionality that would be leveraged off of the backbone that we build. Clearly that is of long term interest relative to our grid modernization strategy.

JO: From what I understand, Telus has actually stated that going to something like a fiber optic, for example, would not cost more than wireless. Do you have the data showing the increase in cost going to a wired system?

G.M:    I don’t have that handy, but there have been several utilities in the States that have started with fiber orBroadband over Powerline and they pulled the plug on those programs.   Simply way too expensive. The concept is nice, but in practicality, John, it just wasn’t working

JO: I understand Itron has the contract for BC Hydro Meters?

G.M:    you bet.

J I have a copy of their annual report from 2005 or 2008 and it’s stating that they actually can use a wired systemthat it is possible in Itron’s technology.

G.M:    What they are probably indicating is that their meter may be compatible with another vendor’s communications system, but that is not being offered in the market and frankly our recent discussions with them have indicated that a Power Line Carrier solution, which may address some of the role,  communities that I spoke of,  is on their road map, but they are not willing to make any commitments as to when it would be available. But sure that’s of interest to us.  If there are some unique circumstances where that technology would be beneficial, we’re leaving that on the table.

JO: I understand there’s quite a bit of protest over the wireless meters from a group who have electrohypersensitivity [EHS]?

G.M:    We are certainly aware of a small vocal community of people who have concerns about RF and we try to answer their questions and have been very pro-active around that.

JO: We spoke with BC Hydro a few months ago and they said they would be willing to work with people who had these sensitivities. Has there been any progress on what exactly will be done?

G.M: We’re actually going to do that on a case by case basis. First of all, John, we’re not going to force meters down on people that have had these concerns. We’ll put those folks on to the end of the program. We’re looking at alternatives. There are a number of things we can do. We will want to discuss those particular alternatives with whatever the particular situation is of the individual.

JO:  In some of the open houses, there was some talk of putting a panel together to address some of the issues of these people, to work out a solution?

G.M:    I’m not aware of a panel, but the lines of communication are open, it’s not that we won’t talk to you. But we just keep saying the same message: “I understand your concern, but 20 years of exposure to a Smart Meter is equal to one 30 minute cellphone call.”  I mean, that’s the difference between the kind of technology that has become commonplace and the Smart Meters. We help people try to put this into perspective.

JO: I’ve spoken to some of these people who have these sensitivities and I think some of their worries are…..I know that BC Hydro states that the  emissions from the meters would be minimal,  only lasting a few minutes at a time, but their fears are that they would be going on a more constant basis.

G.M:  Right. That’s simply not true; the architecture does not allow that. The meters only communicate 4- 6 times a day when they are requested to send information and for a total period of 53 seconds on average.  This is way in the background of the kind of exposure that they might be concerned about.

J.O: Would a possible compromise be that Hydro would install a wired meter, similar to some of them in Ontario for these hypersensitive people?

G.M:    We’re looking at all those options. We’re not insensitive to this issue. We’re going to find ways to work with that, that Power Line Carrier technology, if that becomes available and is cost effective, we’d be all over that.

So sure, we have open communications with regard to people who have concerns.

J.O:   Just last week the World Health Organization, the data has been coming out that they have linked cancer with cellphones, for example.

G.M:    Yeah, significant exposure to cell phones got the designation of possibly carcinogenic, which is ya know………. it joins the ranks of coffee and Styrofoam cups and pickled vegetables, that are also on that list.  But again, you know, our meters are below the lowest standards, the strictest standards in the world.  Even those that are based on the Precautionary Principle that is often used by some of these folks, Switzerland has standards that are based on this Precautionary Principle.  We’re below that when you are standing 8 inches from the meter.

JO: As a consumer, consumer, concerned with  (…??), Why would I have any risk, even a small risk.? Thats maybe some of their concerns.

G.M:    Then you have to get into helping people put things into perspective. We are exposed to known carcinogens every day from the sun, and yet we have found a way to adapt to that, because the risk is obviously low enough for us to be comfortable with the consequences, right?  Some people are more sensitive and they adapt their life accordingly.   You could put these meters on the whole spectrum of potential exposure  (……??)  and this thing would be at the low end of any reasonable potential exposure to RF of any reasonable technologies that would employ that.

J.O: We have heard BC Hydro’s health advisor saying that he doesn’t want to hide behind Safety Code 6, which is Health Canada’s – you could argue contentious – code because it seems to be out of date and even Blatherwick admits that.

G.M:    Well, sure, standards are always being reviewed.  Every year, data is being reviewed and then standards are updated.  In fact, Professor Blatherwick basically said that over 30 years, 25,000 studies have been done and none of them have linked, in a definitive way, RF to cancer.

JO: But the WHO does list emr as a carcinogen.

G.M:    I caution anybody to take the sound bite and don’t read the article, to again put that in perspective and again put cell phone use into perspective with what we are talking about with Smart Meters and clearly they are not even in the same ballpark.

J.O: Just switching gears for a moment.  I understand a large reason why Hydro has argued for SMs is due to theft of hydroelectricity, the marijuana grow-ops and what-not.   It seems that the numbers of reported theft have varied significantly.  The numbers have gone from $12 million     to $30 million    right now its at $100 million      Have they really been changing that much over a mere 2 years?  Are the numbers verifiable?

G.M:    We’re very comfortable and confident with the numbers we have today.  The 100 million per year which is being stolen is conservative, at the low end of the range.  The numbers have changed over the years for a couple of reasons.

When we 1st started to look at that at the urging of BCUC, we did not have a good  handle on the magnitude of the problem.

At that time, the BC Chamber of Commerce back in 2004  said that our estimate of hydro theft through grow ops is 100 to 200 million per year, and we said we think it’s 12.  We just did not have our facts together in fact.  Since then we’ve begun a concerted effort of building up our data base.  And we’ve converged on this number through several different ways:

Engineering studies of line losses,

Studies that we’ve done at the RCMP and Dr.  Plecket

and our own internal data base which has grown substantially.

We’ve converged on a number that we’re confident and comfortable in.

One last thing is that, in 2006, when the safety standards act was enacted, a number of grow-ops started to steal electricity instead of paying for it to avoid detection from the municipalities, and that was a huge driver and that caused some of the acceleration.

J.O:   Speaking of theft,  I know that Hydro is confident in the security of the wireless system, but would not awired system such as Itron offers be absolutely more secure than a wireless system?

G.M:     We’re very very confident that the system we put in is very very secure.

We have a “defense in depth strategy” that is second to none, and every component, the way data is encrypted and sent, this kind of  air traps that we put in that prevents upward introduction of viruses up into our technology.

I mean, we have this so well understood and nailed.

And you know, John, we also have brought in ethical hackers, independent, to actually challenge the security of our solutions, and we’ll be incorporating the concerns…..

No system is 100% secure and we keep running and adapting and putting in place the steps to evolve as the potential threat evolves

J.O:   Just one last question SM, are they going to be for small businesses, restaurants…..?

G: Yes, absolutely. Every distribution customer in the province, commercial, industrial, residential will have Smart Meters. They are a potential significant user of that information to help improve their energy usage and their bill.

J.O:   I guess this ongoing thing with regard to the EHS people,

Hydro is going to continue to communicate with them on options? and what not?

G: You bet,  We will continue to communicate with those folks and we do.

We’ll keep that up.

J.O:   OK, sir, thanks very much for your time