By Kathryn Burnham    August 20, 2011

Victoria city council is asking B.C. Hydro to create a hard-wire option to its wireless smart meters so that those with health concerns won’t have to worry about electromagnetic radiation.

A motion passed at Thursday’s council meeting calls for council to write to B.C. Hydro and the provincial ministries involved.

“I am in no way anti-technology or anti-WiFi,” said Coun. Phillipe Lucas, who introduced the motion. “But this is a very different type of technology. Since it looks like the harms are still unknown, or there are still some concerns, I think we need to listen to our residents and give them the option, at least in their own home, as to the type of technology they are exposed to.”

Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields have been classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization, although no adverse side effects have been proven.

There is no opt-out option to the WiFi-meters at the moment. Those asking not to have a smart meter installed will receive one-on-one information from a B.C. Hydro representative to address their complaint.

“We understand there are concerns,” said Ted Olynyk, the B.C. Hydro manager of community relations for Vancouver Island.

Olynyk said a few customers have come forward with concerns, ranging from health and privacy to cost and a lack of consultation, but the one-on-one discussions “seem to be working.”

“We can explain the concerns they have,” he said. “We will work with them very closely to try to answer the questions that are out there, but we have a bigger system to operate.”

The system upgrade is expected to save the utility provider $1.6 billion, but also help customers save money by showing them what they consume.

B.C. Hydro says the radiation from the smart meter – which only transmits information for an average of one minute a day – over its 20-year lifetime is less than the radiation of a 30minute cellphone call. However, if homeowners are still concerned, they can have their meter moved to a spot on their property further from their house, at their own expense.

Esquimalt council is to examine the health concerns of smart meters before taking any action.

Mayor Barbara Desjardins said other municipalities are discussing the issue and taking action, but “none of us really felt we had a good grasp on the issue,” she said.

Council decided to have staff gather information for a presentation to council that will probably take place in September, said Coun. Meagan Brame. “We aren’t taking stands as a community until we hear more on both sides,” she said.

A discussion of smart meters will also be part of the September Union of B.C. Municipalities conference.

Colwood city council and Highlands district council passed motions last month placing a moratorium on installation of the smart meters until more information has been gathered.

Highlands Mayor Jane Mendum said she has met B.C. Hydro representatives and expects further meetings. The Colwood motion includes a request for alternatives to the smart meter at no cost to the customer.