Smart meters — one concern and one fact at a time

Dear editor,

“It only takes a few minutes on the computer to learn the facts,” said V. Beaton in the letters column on May 31.

Dear editor,

“It only takes a few minutes on the computer to learn the facts,” said V. Beaton in the letters column on May 31.

So, I decided to spend a few minutes to learn the facts, rather than simply watching a few YouTube videos that went on about the various hazards.

It seems the people protesting the smart meters have three main complaints: They are worried about possible health implications, they think it is a poorly hidden plan by BC Hydro to raise rates, and they view it as a privacy threat. Let’s look at each of these concerns with some facts.

Are smart meters a risk to anyone’s health?

They do produce measurable amounts of non-ionizing radiation. However, so does that large glowing orb we usually see in the sky this time of year.

According to the product website, the meters operate for about 80 seconds a day, at 0.61 mW/cm^2. Now, I have no idea if that’s high or low, but fortunately, a few more minutes on the computer tell me that the sun’s “non-ionizing radiation” output at sea level is 137 mW/cm^2 (or about 200 times more, and we usually see the sun for more than 80 seconds a day — maybe not this year).

Others have pointed out that Wi-Fi as used by the smart meters is “classified as a 2B carcinogen.” Keep in mind that the 2B classification is for *possible* carcinogens. That is, there is limited evidence, but they are still looking into it.

Or to put it another way, there have been some studies showing risk and others none, including a recent long term study in Europe that showed no effect. Still, if you want to err on the side of caution, here are a few other class 2B carcinogens you may want to avoid: coffee, gasoline, pickled vegetables, talcum powder (baby’s not going to be happy), and carpentry.

“The new meters aren’t CSA approved.” It does seem odd, but looking at my existing one, I don’t see a CSA logo on it either.

One final point on the health prospects: do the people fearing these devices not realize that BC Hydro employees (including those who made the decision to put the meters in place) live in B.C., so they will have smart meters on their houses. Would they decide to put dangerous products on their own homes?

What about the possibility of BC Hydro switching to time-of-day billing, or otherwise raising your bill? Well, BC Hydro has repeatedly said that they aren’t looking at time-of-day billing, and even if they were, they would have to go through the utilities commission to implement it.

Is it worthwhile to complain about something that BC Hydro *might* try to do in the future (and as the current round of the utilities commission show, even if they want to raise our rates, the government doesn’t have to let them).

Finally, we come to the privacy concerns.

Certainly it is the most difficult to immediately dismiss. Yes, these meters — by design — will provide more information to BC Hydro.

What kind of information? Well, they’ll be able to tell: “something that is using about 150W just turned on.” They don’t know what just turned on (or off); they just know the power consumption.

I doubt very much if they will have some database around that could identify your refrigerator from your electric hedge trimmer from your TV.

As with the health concerns, I hope those worried about the privacy also never use credit cards, debit cards, or customer loyalty cards, as all of these are more of a privacy concern than the smart meters. Oh, and they’ll probably want to close their Facebook accounts, and stop doing any searching on the Internet as well.

What about the benefits of smart meters?

We have been repeatedly told by BC Hydro and other utilities that the main issue preventing moving towards broader adoption of wind, solar and other renewable resources is the need for a “smarter grid.” Smart meters are a step in that process, so I look forward to BC Hydro taking that step. In addition, they will allow us to better monitor and reduce our power consumption.

In conclusion, are smart meters dangerous? Not likely.

Are they a trojan horse for BC Hydro’s rates? They can’t change their rates on their own, so no.

What about the privacy concerns? Pretty minimal I’d say.

Those spreading the fear about them really should take a few minutes to learn the facts.

Shane Kretky,

Comox

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