A presentation on smart meters by BC Hydro attracted about 25 protesters and drew criticism from directors at last week’s Columbia Shuswap Regional District board meeting.
While some protesters held signs and passed out pamphlets outside the regional district building at Marine Park, others sat quietly in the boardroom for the 15-minute presentation by Jennifer Walker-Larsen and Mora Scott.
Media relations rep Walker-Larsen described the program, which is legislated under B.C.’s Clean Energy Act, and said current infrastructure is provided by 1960s technology that needs to be brought into the 21st century.
Scott explained that BC Hydro is more than half-way finished installing smart meters in the province. In terms of the regional district, she said the utility is about 80 per cent complete in the Shuswap and 15 per cent in the Salmon Arm area.
She said current technology prevents Hydro from tracking power outages or theft.
“We operate blind, we have no feedback on grid to get information on how we’re operating,” she said, noting that because the utility has no way of tracking, more electricity than needed is actually sent down the lines to ensure all customers get the proper voltage.
Scott explained how the smart meter’s one-watt radio transmitter works and said the resulting data collection would enable homeowners to make smart choices about “tools” they want to use.
Area F North Shuswap director Larry Morgan challenged not only the “smart” technology, but the manner in which he said British Columbians were made aware of the switch from analog meters.
“The issue I’m having is the incredible pressure from my constituents about radiation and invasion of personal privacy,” he said.
Scott acknowledged that some residents have had concerns and questions because of “a ton of misinformation,” but said BC Hydro has staff available to speak personally with anyone.
“These one-on-one calls have converted more than 2,600 people by telling them the facts,” she said, adding callers have also been directed to other agencies such as Health Canada for more information.
Not satisfied, Morgan suggested the public should be able to express their concerns and that the matter should go back to the provincial government for further review before moving the program forward.
He later asked directors to support him in making a motion to send a letter to the province, the B.C. Utilities Commission and BC Hydro to halt the program until safety and privacy issues could be dealt with satisfactorily.
Morgan’s motion was supported by Area D Falkland-Silver Creek-Ranchero director René Talbot, Sicamous Mayor Darrell Trouton and Area E Rural Sicamous director Rhona Martin, but a tie vote was broken by acting chair Dave Raven and so defeated.
Talbot said he had received many emails from people complaining their rates had soared and were told by BC Hydro that they hadn’t previously been paying for the amount of electricity they were using – something Scott partially attributed to human error made by meter readers.
“We’re getting more calls than normal but we found that in 99 per cent of cases, it shows customers their consumption is actually happening,” she said. “They just don’t realize they we’re getting billed for previous months, the winter, (Christmas) holidays.”
Sicamous Mayor Darrell Trouton said he was more concerned about the installation program than the technology.
“It’s about how it’s been put onto the public, it’s similar to HST – ‘this is what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,’” he said, noting he would like Hydro to make a presentation to the Sicamous community. “The public is who we’re working for and we need to do it another way.”
Martin had issues as well, telling the Hydro reps she is not convinced smart meters are necessary.
“I was looking forward to this presentation because I have only heard negatives,” she said, noting directors have a responsibility to listen to all their constituents, including those who have sensitivities to such things as radio waves, fluorescent lighting, etc. “To me it would make more sense to replace lines rather than new meters.”
In response to a question about honouring property owners’ requests to refrain from installing smart meters, Scott acknowledged only that installation would be deferred.
As to the 39 B.C. communities who have signed moratoriums on the installation of smart meters, Scott reminded directors the program is legislated and is due to be complete by the end of the year.
In addressing Martin’s concerns about privacy and hacking issues, Scott said the system was secure.
“You can see kilowatts per hour and see when consumption is, but just looking at the data, it would be very difficult,” she said. “People could get a lot more information going through your garbage or watching your house.”
Following the presentation, disappointed protester Barb Makota said directors had not been told that the World Health Organization has classified the meters as a carcinogen or that Health Canada’s safety codes are “outdated and do little to protect our health.”
Makota also expressed concerns about residents being “blanketed” by frequencies from routers and that babies, pregnant women, the sick and the elderly are more susceptible to the frequencies.
In response to disappointment on the part of the protesters who wanted to ask questions at the board meeting, Raven advised the Hydro presentation was simply to provide information to directors and not an open forum.