By the end of 2012 1.8-million Smart Meters will be installed in British Columbia homes and businesses.
While there are many benefits, including cost savings for customers and faster power restoration and the ability to monitor one’s own power consumption, some Fort St. John residents are concerned about their health.
Smart meters digitally capture and record when power is consumed or produced using radio frequency technology, similar to cell phones.
“From what I read,” said Fort St. John resident Jewel Bacon, “BC Hydro says it’s only twice a day that the signals go out to substations, or whatever they’re called, so that’s nothing.
“My concern is you get thousands of residences with that happening, and all these little kids playing outside are exposed more and more,” she said.
Safety is top priority for BC Hydro, said a spokesperson, speaking on behalf of the organization.
“We have reviewed the scientific research related to radio frequency based technology.
“After decades of research, there are no demonstrable health or environmental effects from exposure to low-level radio frequency signals,” she continued.
Smart meters use low power signals, and residential smart meters are active for a total average of one minute per day.
“The exposure to radio frequency from a smart meter – over its entire 20-year lifespan – is equal to a single 30 minute cell phone call,” the spokesperson stated.
The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release in May 2011, which classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use.
The BC Hydro website points to B.C. health authorities who disagree.
“Dr. Patricia Daly and Dr. John Blatherwick, the current and previous Chief Medical Health Officers for Vancouver Coastal Health, confirm there is no known health risk and no reason for concern over radio frequency from normal cell phone usage,” said the spokeswoman.
“Cell phones operate at 100 times the power that a BC Hydro smart meter does.”
While smart meters use a similar wireless technology, the grade is not nearly as high as it is for cell phones.
“The thing is, we’re not supposed to let our children have them (mobile phones) because…children are placed at a particular risk for altered brain development and learning behaviour, and it just concerns me because you get all these things and there’s just no stopping them,” Bacon, who is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, said. “Every different item that’s installed adds to more fuel to the fire.”
BC Hydro states that “smart meters are installed outside and the power density reduces exponentially with distance.”
In addition, existing meter boxes, where smart meters are installed, act like a shield that directs frequency signals away from the home.
While concerned about electromagnetic transmission, Bacon is also concerned that she has no choice in what’s installed on her home.
“Smart meters, like power lines, are a basic piece of equipment needed to deliver power to your home,” said BC Hydro. “They are now standard equipment.”
Bacon thinks more people need to be aware of what may happen if smart meters are installed.
“The thing is, I think if everybody refused to take it (smart meters), even though the Premier gave BC Hydro the power to just go ahead and do it without any permission; I think people need to be aware of cumulative effect of all this wireless technology on our children’s future,” she said. “I sent a letter away to the Premier, and told her how disappointed and appalled I am at her just giving the big businesses the ok to go ahead because it (smart meters) could be wired in, and that’s what Idaho is doing.”
According to Idaho Power’s website, smart meters are being installed there as well; however, the difference is that they’re wired through the power line. They do not use electromagnetic transmissions to communicate.
A complaint was filed to the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) by David Aaron, and attorney for Andrea Collins and the Citizens for Safe Technology Society regarding BC Hydro’s smart metering and infrastructure program in December. The group filed a complaint based on the wireless system.
“The BCUC dismissed the group’s premise that the technology used in the new meters exceeded the authority of the Province’s Clean Energy Act,” according to a press release released by BC Hydro on Thursday.
BC Hydro said they were careful to ensure both wired and wireless alternatives could be considered during the procurement process; however, no wired alternatives were proposed.
“We went through an open competitive procurement process that outlined our business needs,” said BC Hydro spokesperson Cindy Verschoor, “and through that process, we got a number of bids; not one of them was for a wired option.
“We didn’t specify the type of technology that we were looking for; we specified the functionality that the technology had to deliver,” she continued.
“We do understand why vendors wouldn’t have come forward,” Verschoor explained. “The types of challenges that we have are things like: we have existing infrastructure that the vendor would have to build on; we have a very diverse topography in British Columbia, which is challenging for many types of technology and we have a very dispersed population density, so unlike some areas in Europe where they have a lot of people in close proximity, it lends itself to different types of infrastructure.
Itron’s advanced OpenWay smart metering system was chosen as the best possible solution.
Bacon doesn’t dispute that current meters should be updated.
“Granted, the meters are all outdated, and I’d be perfectly fine if they’d install them and wire them in, which you can do,” she said.
BC Hydro’s spokesperson noted that “electricity that powers our province has not changed significantly in 50 years, and has not kept pace with the rapid growth of technology and other demands on the system.
“Updating BC Hydro’s meters is a key step in modernizing our entire electricity system, keeping our rates low and ensuring BC Hydro can continue to deliver safe, reliable power,” she said.
Bacon believes everyone should take the time to become familiar with what smart meters are and the possible effect they could have.
Bacon said, “you raise a family, you become very interested in keeping your kids and grandkids healthier.”
Verschoor said there are about 14 and a half thousand meters to be installed in Fort St. John, and installations will begin in May.