BC Hydro cut off electricity to a South Langley school.

Langley Advance
March 9, 2015 04:44 PM

Principal Kristen Cassie is angered by how BC Hydro dealt with the Roots & Wings Montessori over smart meters. BC Hydro shut off the power Friday because the school had kept its analog meter.   Photograph By Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance

Roots & Wings Montessori School has lost its fight against having a smart meter installed after BC Hydro cut off power Friday.

The South Langley school with about 45 children day in, day out has been against the wireless smart meters from the start. BC Hydro cut off power Friday and went into the school Saturday to install a smart meter.

“We view this move on the part of BC Hydro as a bullying tactic, as we cannot be without power for the children,” said principal Kristen Cassie.

When smart meters were introduced, the school chose to keep the old analog meter.

“They tried here and I said ‘no’,” Cassie explained about when smart meters were introduced in B.C. “Parents drive long distances to bring their kids to this school.”

On Friday afternoon, after back and forth with BC Hydro for a couple of years, the electricy was shut off.

She called BC Hydro and was told someone could come out right away and replace it. She said no.

Cassie said she was also told institutional users don’t have a right to refuse smart meters.

Cassie spoke to board members, and it was decided they had to get the power back on because 20 kids were scheduled to start spring break camps on March 9.

“Our school has a 30-year record of earth stewardship, is wireless free – all technology is hard-wired – and we do not allow cellphones in the school,” Cassie said.

She called BC Hydro.

“I did phone and said I guess we had to do it,” she said.

Cassie said she was told someone would call her back shortly. She wanted to be present for the installation and expected someone to get in touch about arrangements.

While she waited by the phone on Saturday, someone went to the school, got the cleaners to let them in the building and changed out the meter in the utility room.

“The part that upsets me is not just the [health] hazards of the smart meters, it’s the bullying,” Cassie said.

She said because children are involved, the board and staff want to be very vigilant about what they allow in the school.

“There are whole countries that have banned smart meters,” Cassie noted.

The school at 200th Street and 9th Avenue is in the former South Carvolth Elementary.

It offers programs for infants, toddlers, and school aged children. The site is also home to three goats, a llama and a dozen chickens.

The children also do gardening, build structures to allow for the agricultural activities, and decide on which animals to get. Most recently they obtained a female rescue goat which caught the eye of the billy and Cassie said with a chuckle, gave the students a lesson in sex education.

Cassie said the students learn about animal husbandry, ecology, animal welfare but also entrepreneurship and all the ethical issues around how they treat the planet.

They learn about food sources, how they can contribute to society, and about solutions to help the environment. Some Roots & Wings students will soon be heading to the Montessori Model United Nations.

About 15,000 customers opted out of having smart meters when BC Hydro started installing them a few year ago.

Those who opt out pay extra fees, $32.40 a month. Those who choose to have the smart  meter radio frequency function turned off pay $20 monthly.

Other jurisdictions with opt-out programs charge much less: $5 per month in Quebec, $5 per month in Arizona. Fortis BC, which operates some electrical utilities in this province and replaced about 130,000 meters in the Souther Interior by 2015, charged $18 every two months.

Opting out (keeping the old meter) and having the smart meter radio off option were choices only available for residential customers, explained Greg Alexis, BC Hydro spokesperson for the smart meter program.

There are about 40 commercial customers refusing smart meters. BC Hydro has installed about 190,000 commercial meters of the 1.9 million.

He said the company had tried working with Roots & Wings to get the meter installed.

“We’ve been in contact with this customer for about a year and a half,” he said.

Access to the meter was blocked so cutting off the power was the utility’s only option.

“It’s always something we take very serious,” he said of shutting off power.

He said BC Hydro had crews at the ready to do the work over the weekend so the school could get the power back on.

“We do regret there was a miscommunication and that the customer wasn’t there at the time,” he said. “Our crews need to respond to several work orders every day to work on the system but we prioritized this reconnection and installation before moving to another job so that power could be restored to the customer before the weekend ended.”