A heated exchange between protester Flo Winfrey and Mayor Manfred Bauer took place when he attempted to explain his decision to vote against the RDOS moratorium on smart meter installations as smart meters opponents gathered outside the Village of Keremeos office for a flash protest Monday afternoon. - Tara Bowie/Black Press

A heated exchange between protester Flo Winfrey and Mayor Manfred Bauer took place when he attempted to explain his decision to vote against the RDOS moratorium on smart meter installations as smart meters opponents gathered outside the Village of Keremeos office for a flash protest Monday afternoon.

— Image Credit: Tara Bowie/Black Press

Emotions are getting heated in the debate over smart meters and the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen and FortisBC are at odds over the  safety of the utility’s meters as the national debate surrounding the safety of wireless devices, continues.

FortisBC recently issued a response to the moratorium put on the advanced metering infrastructure by the RDOS on May 25.

The resolution put forward by Area D Director Tom Siddon asks the BC Utilities Commission to halt advanced meter installations and petitions the premier, the Minister of Health and the Chief Medical Health Officer for B.C. to investigate the negative health effects and halt the mandatory installation of the wireless utility meters.

The motion, which passed by a 12-5 vote, calls on FortisBC to stop installing smart meters and to remove them at the company’s own cost. The meters, which wirelessly relay usage data back to the company, are already installed on houses in Area D and a total of 80,000 have been installed province-wide.

The resolution also asks Premier Christy Clark and company to investigate the “real and rapidly increasing dangers of wireless radiation in all forms” adding that the current exposure guidelines, Canada’s Safety Code 6, are “outdated and inappropriate.”

The response from Mark Warren, director of customer service, technology and systems for FortisBC, says that the resolution made by the RDOS “does not take into account the extensive public regulatory process that included a variety of expert witnesses.”

The statement also notes that the electromagnetic field (EMF) emitted from the meters is “far less than many common wireless consumer devices, including baby monitors, Wi-Fi routers and cellphones,” and notes that the signals the meter gives off are well below the recently revised Health Canada guidelines, as well as most international standards.

The issue came to a head in Keremeos after a group of about six area residents gathered outside the village office on May 25 and confronted Mayor Manfred Bauer after a special meeting held to announce the new CAO.

“Why don’t you protect your people?” protesters yelled as Mayor Bauer came out the back door of the village office trying to enter his vehicle.

Bauer did speak to protesters briefly about his reasons for voting against a smart meter moratorium brought forward by RDOS Area D director Tom Siddon last week.

“There is no legal leg for that,” Bauer said to the small but loud crowd.

Throughout the interaction one of the protesters, Olalla resident Flo Winfrey, repeatedly shouted names at the mayor while demanding answers as to why he voted against the motion.

“You stupid bastard,” she yelled repeatedly as Bauer tried to explain his stance that the RDOS didn’t have legally binding jurisdiction over the matter.

Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit also voted against the moratorium at the RDOS meeting.

“Personally I felt the board was jumping on the hysteria train, incited with emotions instead of facts from Health Canada and Measurement Canada,” Jakubeit said.

He added the argument the resolution carries that the RDOS is responsible to protect its citizens from dangers to their health could be applied in many ways.

“You could make that argument about anything and everything we do. The highways are dangerous, so we should report that, sometimes the pendulum swings way too far in the opposite direction,” Jakubeit said. “There are so many things that use wireless technology that have more waves going through the air than these meters do, like baby monitors and cell phones, microwaves and all that.”

In the response from Fortis, Warren also says that customers who are concerned can opt for a radio-off meter, one that doesn’t emit wireless waves, though the process has associated fees to cover the additional costs of providing the choice.

Siddon, a former cabinet minister and engineer, authored the resolution in consultation with Dr. Malcolm Paterson, who has 40 years of cancer research experience and has previously held talks around the Okanagan regarding his views on the health issues relating to wireless technology.

Siddon said his reason to bring forward the motion was two-fold.

He’s read and heard about many safety concerns relating to fires caused by smart meters because of wiring problems and lithium batteries exploding and he is concerned about health effects from the frequency emissions.

“It’s not as if we have a choice. You know the risks if you want to go sun tanning then you can make that choice. If you want to smoke cigarettes and you get lung cancer you knew that risk. This isn’t something we can choose. Once they are up even if you opt out it will be everywhere,” he said.

Siddon’s resolution also says the meters are “neither UL approved nor CSA certified” and that according to the BC Safety Standards Act “must be certified safe by a professional electrical engineer licensed to work in BC.”

However, in Fortis’ response, Warren said “electricity meters, like all other utility equipment, do not require approval from the Canadian Standards Association because those standards govern consumer products.

Advanced meters are owned and operated by the utility, and are certified by the appropriate regulatory and certification bodies for these types of devices, such as IEEE, ANSI and Industry Canada, and approved by Measurement Canada.”

The jury is still out on whether or not long-term exposure to wireless devices has harmful effects and the issue was before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health in May.

The three-day hearing received submissions from international medical experts, members of industry and advocacy groups. A report is expected to be put forward from the all-party committee on the submissions.

Safety Code 6, Health Canada’s code to establish safety limits for human exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic energy, was recently updated in March by Health Canada following a review of international research by a Royal Society of Canada expert panel and they found current exposure levels, 3kHz to 300 GHz to be non-harmful.

The Health Canada website currently hosts a list “busting myths on Safety Code 6” which tackles recent challenges to the code including whether or not Health Canada ignored certain studies showing adverse health effects, and that it is only based on an exposure time of six minutes.

“The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) did not find a direct link between RF (radio frequency) energy exposure and cancer,” the site states.

FortisBC has installed more than 7,000 smart meters in the South Okanagan. Most meters in the Twin Lakes area have been installed except for ones that have been locked by owners. Smart meters are expected to be installed in Cawston then Keremeos and Hedley in the coming weeks.

With files from Tara Bowie, Black Press.