BC Hydro plans to make new wireless technology ‘standard’
Coming soon to a hydro meter near you: a whole lot of change, and not a whole lot of choice, according to worried residents.
In the coming weeks, BC Hydro plans to finalize installation of their new “Smart Meters,” wireless hydro meters that work by emitting a signal to a remote “Smart Grid,” which effectively allows hydro to be issued and taken away at the mere push of a button. But the change has residents around Victoria and the province spooked — not just for the potential billing changes, but for concerns over privacy, effectiveness and, of course, the health of electromagnetic frequencies (EMF).
In the last few weeks, a heated anti-meter campaign has seen Gulf Island locals hold protests against the installation of Smart Meters. After the World Health Organization recently deemed the frequencies emitted from wireless communication devices as a Class 2B carcinogen, several local municipalities, including Methchosin and Salt Spring Island, have applied for a moratorium on the installation of the wireless meters.
On Wednesday, Jane Sterk, leader of the Green Party of B.C., gave an important policy announcement that called on the B.C. government to cancel BC Hydro’s plan to install Smart Meters and replace it with a long-term plan that addresses health, privacy, security and individual rights issues first. Sterk was joined in the address by federal Green leader Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich Gulf Islands, and Dr. Magda Havas, a professor at Trent University specializing in electromagnetic frequencies.
“We’ve already seen the studies to know that the biological effects of these frequencies have a significant health impact,” says Sterk. “Forcing people to have wireless Smart Meters installed in their homes without any real ability to opt out is unacceptable to us.”
Sterk says that the number of constituents who have been in contact with her has shown a deep public outcry on the matter, though she says that the province’s Clean Energy Bill could have mandated this type of change by further encouraging businesses to transition into a wireless state. Still, Sterk says the health ramifications — from the impact on humans to concerns over the impact in bee colonies and other environmental factors — are not being considered here.
“People have made unsupportable assumptions that these are safe, but there’s no way we can assure that, and by then it may be too late. I don’t think there was ever any real negotiating power given to the public here,” says Sterk. “BC Hydro thought they could just do this without the public really noticing, but the response to this has just been mushrooming.”
Fiona Taylor, deputy project officer for BC Hydro’s Smart Meter Program, says that a major part of BC Hydro’s focus in the switch is informing customers about “misinformation” out there, and helping people get on board with modernizing the 50-year-old grid.
“In the 20-year life of a Smart Meter, they have actually been proven to emit approximately the same frequencies as you would experience being on a cell phone for 30 minutes,” she says. “We’ve worked with a lot of third-party experts to ensure that we’re offering our clients the strictest standards.”
Taylor says the meters don’t emit frequencies 24/7 as people fear, but only one minute per day. She also says the meters register at just two microwatts, compared to Switzerland’s precautionary standards of 4.5 microwatts. She adds that no evidence has been discharged to prove bees are affected by the frequencies.
Taylor says the data collected by the meters is not real-time but hourly, so BC Hydro has no way of knowing what appliances a client is using, or what people are doing with that energy. That said, it will be easier for BC Hydro to crack down on people “stealing” power and tampering with meters, as the company can trace the interference straight to the source.
While Taylor understands that some people are uncomfortable with the technology, she says BC Hydro is committed to working with clients to find a solution for everyone, which could include placing the meters a small distance away from a home — though Sterk pointed out that a BC Hydro rep told her that cost would come at the owner’s expense, and can be upwards of $10,000.
Taylor says BC Hydro has made no official decisions on what that cost would be, but when asked if it actually is possible to opt out of the meters, Taylor answered, “Smart Meters are becoming the global standard, and they will be our standard going forward. We are absolutely convinced that these are a safe, effective and reliable alternative to the old meters.”
BC Hydro expects to save up to $70 million within the next three years, and $500 million over the next 20 years. Taylor says those savings will go directly to clients, though most will see no change on their bills — the savings are in avoiding fees that otherwise would have had to be implemented, she says. While customers on the Smart Meter system in the U.S. and Ontario have typically seen an increase in billing, Taylor says this is due to the fact that Smart Meters are more accurate, but says that B.C. will hardly see a difference due to BC Hydro’s relatively new meters. The contracted-out meter readers will mostly no longer be needed.
Sterk encourages those who wish to opt out of the meters to contact BC Hydro and request to be placed on a “delayed installation” list, as well as continue to write in to BC Hydro and the government with a notice of non-consent.
“There is no way to assure that this new system won’t be misused once it’s put in place, but it comes with so many more risks,” says Sterk. “This is another transfer of public funds to the private sector … and we need people and our government to see the ramifications this change could have.” M