Rotraut Knopp has extra oil for her lamps on hand, an assortment of candles in her kitchen, and a Coleman stove on the porch of her Ships Point home.
She’s preparing to go ‘off-grid’ for an indefinite period of time — not by choice, she said, rather because BC Hydro cut off power to her trailer Oct. 30 after Knopp stopped paying her monthly legacy meter fee for her analog meter.
“I went out in the morning and when I came back I saw a little tag on the meter and I didn’t see it running so I went in and right away I knew if it wasn’t going, the power was out,” the 71-year-old explained Friday. “Power was out absolutely everywhere. And this morning I found out because of the digital phone I don’t even have the phone.”
Knopp said because of health implications, she refused to have a smart meter installed, and has been paying the usage portion of her hydro bill, but refuses the monthly fee.
In April, the B.C. Utilities Commission approved BC Hydro’s request for a monthly charge of around $30 for reading an analog meter and administration fees.
Knopp said she owes more than $150 in fees, but the idea of paying to restore the service or installing a smart meter is not an option.
“For me, it’s pushing something through,” said Knopp.
“It’s only a money maker. I know that all these meter readers lost their jobs, and that reeks of money.”
She noted she’s affected by the electromagnetic waves of smart meters. BC Hydro notes on their website their smart meters do use low level radio frequency signals, but add the province’s health authorities confirm smart meters pose no known health risk.
“I don’t like my health affected. My health is all I have. It’s what I have. The old meter worked just fine, there was no problems there,” she said. “My nerves are rattled. My blood pressure has gone up. It’s subtle things; my body can’t take it … I know people don’t understand these things unless they have it themselves.”
Ted Olynyk, BC Hydro’s manager of community relations for Vancouver Island, said while the company has provided Knopp with 10 notices since June, disconnection is a last resort for any customer.
“We make a lot of effort to work with the customer to make arrangements for them to pay their bill or to arrange a (payment) schedule,” he noted. “But the rest of us are expected to pay our bill … all of our customers are treated equally. If you buy gas or go to a restaurant – it’s the same. Your bill must be paid.”
Olynyk explained BC Hydro does have a ‘moratorium period’ where the company will not disconnect service to a customer during the winter months despite bills in arrears due to the drop in temperatures and an increased reliance on hydro.
The ‘moratorium period’ runs from November to March, he noted.
“During that time, we still work with the customer to arrange payment,” Olynyk added.
As the first customer in the Comox Valley to have her analog meter disconnected for not paying the legacy fee, Knopp said she is relying on the kindness of her neighbours.
Some of her frozen food is being kept in her neighbour’s freezer, and some in coolers.
Knopp added she has lived on Hornby Island for 16 years, where during the winter months, power outages were frequent, and she learned to live without electricity.
“I have oil lamps and I have candles. I can go over and cook with the neighbours and I have a Coleman stove too. It’s more complicated and time consuming,” she admitted.
“I’m glad they’re around. I’ll just have to put up with it or move out … move in with some neighbours or something like that. We’ll see what comes up. My house is warm and I have water so it’s just some cooking and the lights. If you have lived after the war, you know what it is like. And it is war.”
Olynyk said if Knopp decides to switch over to a smart meter, there will be no charge if she accepts a new meter.
Despite the inconveniences of living without hydro, Knopp explained she will not be forced by the corporation to accept paying the legacy fee or a smart meter.
“I don’t see why I should pay. I have something about forcing people. It’s just because my history in Germany; everybody knows that history. Force, encourage, it’s just something I have something against. It just rubs me the wrong way,” she said holding back tears.
“I really don’t like when something (is) pushed down your throat. I don’t like it. They don’t know what they’re doing … if they don’t mind to cut off power to a 71-year-old woman, that is on their conscience.”