by Ian Bailey – The Globe and Mail Vancouver – January 30, 2013:


B.C. Hydro says it won’t install smart meters if households don’t want them, even after the B.C. Liberal government insisted for years that the program was mandatory.

In a statement Wednesday, B.C. Hydro’s smart-meter spokesman, Greg Alexis, said the utility would work with customers who don’t want the new meters, but did not make clear whether it would install them only if the households agreed.

Mr. Alexis did not return calls seeking elaboration.

The B.C. NDP immediately saw an election motive to the reversal of a program the B.C. Liberals have long said was irreversible. Energy critic John Horgan suggested the government had changed course to eliminate a political irritant as the May, 2013, provincial vote looms.

“I believe the B.C. Liberals recognized they would have a significant fight on their hands, so said: ‘No. We won’t do it until after the election,’ ” Mr. Horgan said. “[The Liberals] don’t have a lot of votes to spare. Why would they further alienate themselves from a great swath of the electorate?”

B.C. Hydro said about 85,000 customers, provincewide, have refused the installation of one of the devices, which are supposed to more accurately monitor electrical usage to conserve electricity, but it was not immediately clear how the utility would proceed.

Wednesday’s statement reinforced an opinion-editorial by Energy Minister Rich Coleman last week, circulated by the government, that hydro would not install a new smart meter without a homeowner’s consent. Mr. Coleman said 1.74 million smart meters have been installed, leaving the province 85,000 meters short of completing the $1-billion initiative launched in 2007 by then-premier Gordon Campbell in what was described as a bid to better manage the distribution of power.

In the years since, the government has been steadfast in saying the program was non-negotiable despite waves of criticism from skeptics about the devices, and their possible health effects.

“Smart meters are here. We’re going to do them. We’re going to do them right,” Mr. Coleman insisted in a 2011 interview.

Mr. Coleman’s office said he would not be available to comment, but instead referred to his column.

Mr. Horgan said an NDP government would refer the file to the British Columbia Utilities Commission, an independent energy regulator, seeking its guidance on how to satisfy the members of the community who do not want the devices.



B.C. Hydro soften stance on forced installation of smart meters

By Rob Shaw, Times Colonist January 30, 2013  ( also shown in the Province )

B.C. Hydro appears to be backing away from plans to force smart meters on unhappy customers, but it’s unclear if people can completely opt out of the program, as suggested recently by Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg.

Both B.C. Hydro and Energy Minister Rich Coleman said Tuesday that the controversial devices will not be installed without a customer’s consent.

That’s a different stance than Hydro took earlier this month, when the Crown corporation penned a letter to holdout customers, saying: “We can no longer delay the installation of a new meter at your home.”

At the time, Hydro spokeswoman Cindy Verschoor told the Times Colonist that a new wave of meter installers would ignore signs from homeowners requesting the company not install smart meters, and would remove bars, boxes, locks or other barricades that prevented access. The only way to stop the installation was to be physically at home when an installer happened to arrive.

Critics of the $1-billion program say the wireless technology used by the smart meters is unhealthy, and thousands of people have blocked Hydro from replacing their old devices. Hydro has insisted they are mandatory, saying it would be too expensive to maintain an updated smart meter grid at the same time as old meters.

Hydro issued a short statement about the issue on Tuesday, and Coleman tweeted a comment — “Position on smart meters is unchanged: B.C. Hydro will not install a new meter without the homeowner’s consent” — but both refused to be interviewed.

The situation was further confused by a letter sent by Hogg, government caucus chairman, to a constituent. An anti-smart meter group obtained the letter and published it online.

“Last Wednesday, Minister Coleman advised Gordon that individual homeowners, who had not yet had a smart meter installed on their home, would not have to have one,” the Jan. 28 letter from Hogg’s office read.

“B.C. Hydro may be contacting those ‘hold outs’ one last time and if you say ‘no’ and do not consent — that is the end of it. You will not be ‘forced’ into have one or be in fear of it being installed when you are not home.”

Both Hydro and Coleman refused Tuesday to address whether an opt-out program for smart meters exists or had been suddenly created. Hogg also refused comment.

NDP energy critic John Horgan called the change in position a “pre-election Hail Mary” by the Liberals to get Hydro to back off smart meters until after the May provincial election.

“At the start of January, they were going to go to the parapets and battle it out. And now they’ve made a political calculation to say, ‘We’ll delay it a few months until after May,’ ” Horgan said.

“It says, we don’t want to agitate you right now, but if we win the election, be assured we’re coming back and sticking a smart meter on your house.”

Around 93 per cent of B.C. Hydro customers have had their meters switched, but almost 140,000 holdouts remain, the company has said. In Greater Victoria, 95 per cent of customers have the new smart meters.

Hydro has said the new meters will better measure electricity, allow for more accurate billing, wirelessly send information to Hydro, and help restore power outages faster.

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