Devices are safe, effective and will modernize grid, Hydro maintains

SEPTEMBER 22, 2011


Smart meters don’t qualify as a smart move as far as Brian Theissen is concerned.

The new wireless electrical meters, to be installed in every Kamloops home starting in October, will enable two-way communication between the devices and B.C. Hydro.

Yet some homeowners, wary of uncertain health risks, possible rate hikes and even security/surveillance concerns, are fighting back.

Thiesen and about 30 other local residents are in the process of forming a community action group to delay or halt the installations. Cost — the conversion is expected to run close to $1 billion provincewide — is a major issue for him.

“Where will the money come to pay for these meters?” said Theissen, a student of economics. “We already know B.C. Hydro is quite improperly managed and having difficulties. You and I are going to pay for them.”

While they don’t look much different from conventional meters — aside from a digital readout — they represent a major leap forward for the Crown corporation. Dag Sharman, Hydro’s community relations manager, calls it a “smarting of the grid.”

“Essentially, they allow us to Power Smart ourselves,” Sharman said. “They’re something that’s needed because electricity is the backbone of energy in this province.”

The household devices will form part of an integrated system for effective monitoring of electrical demand. Their installation is expected to yield a net savings of $70 million, climbing to $520 million over 20 years.

“That’s money that would have to otherwise come through electrical rates,” Sharman said.

Response times in power outages will be shortened significantly, he added. Consumers will benefit through a greater ability to monitor their consumption, Hydro contends.

“It gives them the tools if they opt for an in-home display of power usage. You get a better sense of how much you’re using.”

Petrina Gregson, another Kamloops resident, is one of many homeowners concerned about the health risks of exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) and microwave radiation. She’s told Hydro and its contractor that they are not to come onto her Powers Addition property to install the new devices.

“The more I read about it, the more I think it’s like cigarettes or leaded gasoline,” she said. “We just weren’t aware until they caused too much damage.”

Customers cannot opt out of the wireless meters, Sharman said. The conversion to smart meters is legally mandated under the Clean Energy Act for completion by 2012. The legislation frees the conversion from the oversight of the B.C. Utilities Commission.

“We do recognize some customers have concerns, se we’re trying to talk directly with them to find mutually agreeable solutions.”

The only alternative is to have the meter installed away from a home, but the homeowner will be billed for the additional cost, he said.

Eva Lyman, a Celista senior, was told she would be put on a “delay list,” but that doesn’t satisfy her in the least. She has health sensitivities and is concerned about emission of electromagnetic radiation from the meters.

“I’m really tired of the lack of concern for people’s health in this province and this country,” she said. “It’s really just money, money, money.”

Sharman said wattage from the devices is well below Canadian safety standards for maximum exposure. The radio frequency is outside of homes, directional and backed by a metal plate. People are already exposed to greater levels of EMR through cellphones and Wi-Fi, defenders say.

Walter McGinnis, an electrician who has tested for EMR for 20 years, argues otherwise.

“Yes, there is absolutely conclusive evidence on health effects,” said McGinnis, co-chairman of the EM Radiation Health Alliance of B.C. The group is not just protesting smart meters; they intend to mount a referendum campaign to have the legislation repealed and the program halted. There are no benefits to the public, only risks, he argues.

“This is so easy to criticize,” McGinnis said. “It’s like criticizing George W. Bush’s foreign policy.”

Another B.C. action group, Citizens for Safe Technology, has asked the UBCM delegates at next week’s annual meeting to support a provincewide moratorium on smart meters.

Thiesen, meanwhile, hopes more concerned citizens will attend a Sept. 29 meeting. He can be reached at[email protected].