Standing beside a wireless smart meter for 20 years would yield the same exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields as a 30-minute chat on a cell phone.
So say BC Hydro officials who appeared before the regional district committee of the whole, which drew a packed house Tuesday.
As opposed to being harmful to our health, Gary Murphy said smart metres are a necessary infrastructure investment that will save money in the long-term and will enable the grid — which BC Hydro calls “the backbone of our economy” — to remain reliable and cost-effective.
“This is the first step in modernizing our grid,” Murphy, chief project officer of the Smart Meter Program, said in an interview with the Record.
While infrastructure has not changed in about 50 years, demand on the electricity system is expected to increase by 40 per cent over the next 20 years. Over the same time period, the smart meter program is expected to yield a $520-million return.
Last year, BC Hydro awarded Corix the installation contract. The first meters were installed in the summer.
Smart meter opponents say the devices emit radiation, increase the likelihood of structure fires and violate privacy rights by recording details of power usage.
Last month, William Thomas of the Royston Citizens for Safe Technology told the CVRD board that hydro bills have doubled, and in some cases tripled, where smart meters have been installed. He criticized BC Hydro for not testing the meters under a full load, and for neglecting to consult with residents.
Murphy said there is a “significant amount of misinformation” in the public eye, noting most complaints have come from customers with old meters.
According to BC Hydro, smart meters will eliminate billing errors. Murphy also notes a “last-gasp” feature that will report disconnections and help pinpoint outages at a faster rate. He also said the meters will put a “huge dent” in energy theft from marijuana grow operations, which account for at least $100 million in lost revenue each year.
Unlike Ontario, BC Hydro says it has no intention of implementing time-of-use rates.
The company will respect the wishes of residents who place No Meter signage on old meters.
“We’ve respected that from Day One,” Murphy said, noting the company wants to reach a point where there is dialogue with customers. “I don’t believe it’s in BC Hydro’s DNA to do anything radical.”
More than 1,000 smart meters have been installed in the Comox Valley. The company expects all installations to be completed by October.
Thomas had asked the CVRD board to sign a moratorium on mandatory meter installation, following the lead of more than 40 councils in B.C. The board first wanted to hear from BC Hydro before making a decision.
On Tuesday, the committee did not move a staff recommendation for a moratorium until major issues identified are “independently assessed and acceptable alternatives can be made available at no added cost to the consumer.”