UBCM president eases fears of conflict of interest

SEPTEMBER 26, 2011

Members of Merritt city council will vote on a resolution at this week’s UBCM convention that would ask the B.C. government to halt its controversial Smart Meter program.

Councillors Mike Goetz, Nadia Clarke, Dave Baker, and Alastair Murdoch have all raised concerns over the safety and security of the $1-billion smart meter program, currently being rolled out across the province by BC Hydro, as part of the BC Liberal government’s Clean Energy Act. A total of 193 B.C. municipalities, 16 of which have already said no to Smart Meters, will vote at the Union of BC Municipalities 108th Convention at the Vancouver Convention Centre Sept. 26-30.

The resolution requests “a moratorium be placed on the mandatory installation of wireless smart meters until the major issues and problems identified regarding wireless smart meters are independently assessed and acceptable alternatives can be made available at no added cost to the

“I believe there is a degree of concern amongst all of council on this topic,” says Mayor Susan Roline. “One of the main ones being whom do you rely on for accurate factual information?”

The meters, which will replace analogue and digital meters with two-way wireless digital technology, have come under fire by critics. They say the radiation emitted from the wireless meters, which have been shown to spike every few seconds throughout the day on a 24/7 basis, pose a threat to human health. However, BC Hydro claims the meters are only active for a total of one minute a day, based on their testing, which has not been made available to the public.

Smart Meters will communicate back and forth between relay points and hubs (not yet installed), creating a haze of what some deem electro-smog. Critics also claim smart meters are insecure against hackers and say BC Hydro will eventually use the real-time billing to gradually increase hydro rates.

Other controversy includes the exemption of oversight by the BC Utilities Commission (outlined in the BC Clean Energy Act), and news reports in provincial media have shown that BC Hydro has been installing smart meters under stealth, causing surprise in residents who wake up or come home from work to find that their old meter has been replaced with a smart meter without their permission.

“Obviously, BC Hydro would be in support, as it is their project, and they have been sold on the benefits and eventual cost savings,” says Roline, who will attend the UBCM this week. “The manufacturer of the meter would be in support, as they stand to make a lot of money. The Province would be in support, as Hydro is one of their entities. The opponents are against, based on unverified information.”

Hydro has downplayed concerns over the radiation emissions due to the fact that federal regulations (Industry Canada’s Safety Code 6) deem them safe as long as emissions are shown to be non-thermal. However, there is evidence to support the belief that non-thermal radiation, common with everyday wireless devices, like Internet routers, cordless phones, baby monitors, and cell phones, does pose a risk to human health and can contribute to disease and cancer. This year, the World Health Organization added non-thermal radiation (radio frequency) to its list of Class 2B carcinogens (possibly carcinogenic). DDT, lead, and diesel exhaust are well-known toxins included as 2B carcinogens. The World Health Organization has never put something into this category that was later found to be less toxic.

“The scientific experts could be biased, as their next research funding may come from Hydro or the province or other government body,” admits Roline. “Our staff are certainly not experts on this topic, nor can any of council be, as none of us are scientists.”

“The smartest thing to do would be to say no,” says Clarke. “If you don’t act now, it becomes too late.” Clarke adds that she feels the municipalities that have already requested a ban on meters are more “environmentally conscious.”

Goetz says he will not seek information from BC Hydro at the UBCM and will request further review and public consultation before he approves of the program.

“One of my philosophies is that when a project of this size, that costs so much money and is subject to so many unanswered questions and is being basically forced into each and everyone of our homes, is to follow the money and you will find the real answers,” says Roline. “Someone that has a great deal of power stands to make a great deal of money on this or is connected to someone that will make the money.

“As someone who understands business and marketing, I do see where BC Hydro will benefit from this type of meter. And I also know we will see more of these meters making their way into peoples homes to meter the amount of water or sewage we use. What is not readily seen by our residents is the benefit to them. The existing meters are working just fine for their current known needs. What should have taken place from a marketing perspective is to sell the benefits of the new meters better.”

So far, BC Hydro has not allowed customers to opt out of the Smart Meter program despite the growing number of pubic and private utilities in Canada and the United States that are giving customers the choice of either an opt out or a wired Smart Meter.

Conflict of interest between UBCM and BC Hydro?

UBCM president Barbara Steele says there is no truth to any speculation that BC Hydro’s sponsorship of the UBCM Convention presents a conflict of interest.

“BC Hydro has always been a good partner of ours and we continue to use them, but that would not be based on whether or not we support smart meters,” says Steele. “UBCM is a policy-driven organization … whatever comes from the floor and whatever comes from the majority of our members is what we do, sponsorship notwithstanding.”

BC Hydro, which has been travelling the province and making Smart Meter presentations at city councils and chambers of commerce, will make a smart meter presentation during the UBCM Convention starting at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 27. Hydro’s list of “expert” presenters has not yet been disclosed.

Although a coalition of citizen meter opponents have been denied entrance into the UBCM Convention, where they hoped to set up a booth to provide information on smart meters, they say they will offer literature to delegates on their way in.

“We’re going to have some people there with flyers and signs, and we’re going to attempt to speak to as many delegates as we can, because that’s really our only opportunity since we’re not allowed to participate in the meeting itself,” says Sharon Noble, a member of the B.C.-based Coalition to Stop “Smart” Meters (www.stopsmartmetersbc.ca).

“Most of the municipalities have not yet had the opportunity to have presentations made to them, and like most people in British Columbia right now, the councillors and mayors don’t know anything about smart meters except what BC Hydro is telling them.” Although the coalition had requested to have their own set of experts attend and been denied, Noble says Hydro has been allowed to amend their list of presenters.

“Some of the councillors have asked, but so far they haven’t been told. I suspect it will be people like those from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, who work for Perry Kendall, who work for the province, and who, so far, have not been terrible forthright with information. For instance, they maintain that they’ve tested the meters and they’re safe, but they don’t have the right meters,” says Noble.

“Our expectation of UBCM is that it will give us an opportunity to speak with our counterparts and see exactly what information helped them make the decision to place a moratorium on the installation of smart meters in their communities,” says Roline. “Also, what they are expecting to receive in the way of additional information during this time delay, that would help them decide whether to allow the meter installation, request changes to the meters, or put a complete ban on them. I do not believe any one of our council has the expectation that BC Hydro would be the ones that would enlighten us for the decision we will need to make for Merritt. I also do not believe that UBCM delegates will make decisions based solely on BC Hydro’s information and the fact that they are and have been, for many, many years, major corporate sponsors of UBCM.”