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BC Hydro tries to quell smart meter concerns

BC Hydro's attempt to deflate opposition to smart meters was met with frustration from municipal leaders who say the utility should be talking to the public, not just politicians.

Gary Murphy, chief project officer of BC Hydro's $930 million smart metering program, headlined a panel of health and technology experts at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention this morning.

He told delegates that leadership is needed to quell concerns around smart meters. One of those concerns is the potential danger posed by electromagnetic radiation emitted by the wireless smart meter network. On Wednesday delegates debate a resolution calling for a moratorium on the mandatory installation of smart meters. According to BC Hydro, 100,000 smart meters have been installed so far.

On Monday, BC Hydro distributed an information package to convention delegates noting they would be exposed to more than 4,500 minutes worth of electromagnetic radiation from wireless networks in the Vancouver Convention Centre.

"Smart meters are active for an average of one minute a day," Dr. James Lu, a medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health and one of the panelists told delegates this morning. "Health authorities confirm that smart meters pose no known health concerns."

In response to questions about privacy and data security, Murphy said that the smart meters will collect the same type of information that existing meters already do. The only difference, he says, is that "smart meters have the ability to collect that at hourly intervals."

This would make it possible to introduce time-of-use billing; different rates for different times of the day. Typically, this means higher rates to discourage use during peak hours. It's something that Hydro One in Ontario introduced in conjunction with its smart meter program.

In response to questions about how smart meters would affect rates, Murphy insisted that time-of-use billing is "off the table."

"We're not changing the rate structure," he said. "We're providing customers with information through a free portal."

NDP energy critic John Horgan called that position a "distortion of reality."

"Time of use pricing is inevitable," he said, noting that he doesn't disagree with this practice in theory.

Horgan said that in his six years as an MLA, no other issue has garnered such a strong public response. He noted that opposition has been particularly strong on Vancouver Island and in the Gulf Islands, where some constituents have promised to refuse to allow anyone on their property to install a smart meter.

Councilors also said they've been inundated with emails and phone calls from constituents.

"All these questions could have been addressed months ago," said Saanich councilor Paul Gerrard. "There's been a complete lack of communication."

"I think the leadership needs to come from B.C. Hydro," Central Saanich councilor Adam Olsen remarked during question period. "I think it's B.C. Hydro that needs to communicate to its customers. We have enough on our agenda."

"I think you're right," responded Murphy. "We need to do a better job."

The man in charge of the smart metering program was crystal clear on one point, though.

"First and foremost, there is no opt-out program," Murphy said. "Every customer in the province is going to get a smart meter."

Outside the convention centre, Chris Anderson was one of several citizens handing out pamphlets and displaying signs opposing smart meters. The Salt Spring Island resident said he’d been heckled with cries of 'Smart is green' and 'You can't stop progress.'

He said he has locked his own meter and intends to continue "encouraging others to send legally binding letters of refusal" to BC Hydro.

"I will never accept a smart meter."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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