In an abrupt about face, BC Hydro reversed its plans to make smart meters mandatory across the province, saying instead that they would work with customers to convince them that the systems are safe and beneficial for homeowners.
The decision to adopt Smart Meters has been controversial from the start, with opponents voicing concern over the potential health impacts of microwave radio frequency radiation that is used to allow the meters to communicate wirelessly with BC Hydro. There have also been concerns voiced regarding higher bills, the $1 billion price tag for the program, and security — specifically whether thieves could intercept the wireless signals, break the encryption and use the data to determine if anyone is home.
BC Hydro allowed some people a temporary delay, although the goal was to have all of the old meters replaced by smart meters by the end of 2012. Still, some customers have flat-out refused the new meters and have installed bars, barbed-wire, wood enclosures and other impediments to prevent BC Hydro workers from making the change. As a result, roughly 85,000 customers have yet to get the new meters, which represents roughly five per cent of customers.
It's unknown if the reprieve announced this week is official policy or if it's a temporary measure while BC Hydro regroups. Having random meters scattered over the province would keep a few meter readers employed, but it would be inefficient for the utility.
"We think it's important to take some extra time to work with customers who still have concerns with getting a new meter," said BC Hydro spokesman Greg Alexis. "In the meantime we will not install a new meter for these customers unless we have their permission."
Bryan Raiser, a councillor in Squamish, is among the 85,000 BC Hydro customers to keep his old meter by installing a cage around it and posting a letter written by meter readers to let BC Hydro know his intentions. His concern was that the smart meter was mounted on a wall near where his children sleep, and he wasn't satisfied with BC Hydro's assurances of safety. He supports the idea of a smart grid, he said, but would have preferred BC Hydro to use one of the wired solutions that are available.
"Somebody told me that (smart meter installers) can't alter anything on your home as long as they could read the meter, and I had a basket cage from an old deep freezer that I put over it. I also posted the letter that was sent out by the meter readers' union," he said. "I don't know which of these measures worked, I've never actually spoken to anybody, but I got a letter only a few weeks ago saying I have to get a smart meter whether I like it or not. Then I heard you didn't, and now I'm sort of playing it by ear.
"I figure this (latest statement) is just electioneering, but who knows?"
Raiser said he expects that he'll eventually lose the fight, but his mind has not changed regarding the health risks of RF radiation. "I have a buddy who let them change his meter, and he's totally choked that he gave in now," he said. "But as much as we're fighting it, I don't think anyone is under the illusion that it's not going to happen eventually."
NDP energy critic John Horgan has also suggested that the smart meter policy shift has something to do with the upcoming May election and the fact that the Liberals are trailing the NDP in the polls.