B.C. VIEWS: Going Gaga over smart meters

Noted physicist Lady Gaga has been invoked in a protest campaign against providing wireless Internet in schools.

VICTORIA – This summer, BC Hydro starts installing 1.8 million smart meters to eventually upgrade every electricity customer in the province.

This is controversial for several reasons. First, they’re doing it now because former premier Gordon Campbell decreed it must be done by the end of 2012. Second, the smart grid is one of several major BC Hydro projects the government exempted from having to undergo a cost-benefit review by the B.C. Utilities Commission.

And, of course, there is the budgeted cost of $930 million, coming at a time when BC Hydro is projecting rate increases approaching 50 per cent over the next five years.

When I spoke with BC Hydro smart meter project executive Fiona Taylor last week, she naturally had no comment on the politics. Smart meters are inevitable, she said, since mechanical meters are obsolete and eventually won’t be made any more.

Taylor insists the pending rate increases would be even higher without smart meters. BC Hydro estimates the wireless meters will not only pay for themselves, they will produce a net saving of $500 million over the next 20 years.

Even some BC Hydro employees were surprised to hear that, with current technology, the utility has no way of knowing your power is out until you phone them. And when line crews come out to repair a local blackout, how do they determine if the repair is complete? They drive up and down the road to see if people have lights on. If you use a backup generator, they might miss you.

Smart meters will have “last gasp, first breath” capability, storing enough energy to send a signal that reports the power has gone out, and another signal when it is restored. As it stands, a repair truck can be dispatched to a reported power failure, only to find that the customer’s main breaker has tripped.

There is another concern, which is that the brief signals emitted every few hours to send readings to a central hub are somehow a health hazard.

BC Hydro has retained former Vancouver medical health officer Dr. John Blatherwick to respond to this. He notes that smart meter signals are the equivalent of a three-minute cell phone call once per day, at a much greater distance.

These particular radio frequency signals are similar to those used for digital TV. Such signals are also emitted by the spark plugs of a car, by lightning strikes, in fact all visible light and even the infrared generated with your body heat.

But there are people who insist they have a greater sensitivity, and there will probably be some generalized hysteria and system-milking as we saw with the squabble over a power line through Tsawwassen.

The NDP is nurturing this flame of discontent as it campaigns against smart meters. It’s popular among the young, and no less an authority than Lady Gaga is the poster girl to warn against wireless Internet in schools.

NDP leadership candidate John Horgan is the party’s ranking power expert. He mainly argues that BC Hydro doesn’t need to spend all this money on smart meters right now. But he is careful not to question the tinfoil hat perspective, and risk alienating the ignorant and superstitious vote. This is a key constituency in parts of B.C.

Blatherwick notes that “if you truly are harmed by this level of radiation, you can’t live in a major city.”

I’ll say. The computer producing this column is on wireless, one of at least a dozen signals it can detect in my neighbourhood.

Our modern comfort is fragile, as Japan reminds us. It needs smart equipment, and smart people.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

Just Posted

Golden anniversary for G.P. Vanier Thursday

It was a day of celebration for students, educators and administrators past… Continue reading

Comox Valley RCMP seeking witnesses of attempted sexual assault

The Comox Valley RCMP is looking for witnesses after an attempted sexual… Continue reading

UPDATE: Vehicle rams boat into Courtenay home

Driver failed sobriety test, issued roadside prohibition and released; no charges to be laid

Jangula denounces Culture Guard endorsement

Has asked to be removed from list

B.C. NDP retreats again on empty-home tax for urban areas

Rate reduced for all Canadians, dissident mayors to get annual meeting

Jets score 3 late goals to beat Canucks 4-1

Winnipeg ends three-game Vancouver win streak

San Group announces plans to build new sawmill in Port Alberni

San Group has purchased 25 acres of Catalyst Paper land for expansion

Shots fired at Vancouver Island house during fight

Shots were fired at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday in 500 block of Kennedy Street, say Nanaimo RCMP

Two B.C. cannabis dispensaries raided on legalization day

Port Alberni dispensaries ticketed for “unlawful sale” of cannabis

Canada not sending anyone to Saudi business summit

Sources insist Ottawa never intended to dispatch a delegation this time around

VPD ordered to co-operate with B.C. police watchdog probe

According to the IIO, a court is ordering Vancouver police to co-operate with an investigation into a fatal shooting

Earthquake early-warning sensors installed off coast of B.C.

The first-of-its kind warning sensors are developed by Ocean Networks Canada

B.C. woman looks to reduce stigma surrounding weed-smoking moms

Shannon Chiarenza, a Vancouver mom of two, started weedmama.ca to act as a guide for newcomers to legal cannabis, specifically mothers

Most Read