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Smart meters deadline extended

Allison Gibbard Photo

While BC Hydro started installing smart meters back in 2011, a recent announcement has extended the deadline for Smart Meter installation from Dec. 31, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2013. Currently Dawson Creek and Fort St. John are in the process of having the digital meters switched to Smart Meters.

The province has extended the deadline for the smart meter installation.

The original deadline was Dec. 31, 2012 and has been extended to Dec. 31, 2013. The extension of the deadline was done under the Clean Energy Act according the Minister of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas. Smart meter installation began in July of 2011.

“We’ve been at it for about 18 months and just now wrapping up the meter installation phase of the program. The program does include a lot more than meter installations. It is actually a grid modernization initiative but the meter installations are the first part of it,” explained Cindy Verschoor, communications lead for the Smart Metering Program.

While most smart meters have been installed across the province, there are still some businesses and homes that currently do not have the new meters, she said.

“We’ve already installed 1.73 million meters out of 1.87 million so the vast majority of meters have been installed. In fact, about 93 per cent of meters have been installed. Basically, what the Province has done is they’ve extended the deadline to allow us a little more flexibility and time,” said Verschoor.

One of the reasons that some residents may not have smart meters is because they may have decided to postpone the installation of the new meter.

“We have been allowing customers to delay their meter installation and we’ve done that all along. We just need a little more time to work with these customers to address any questions that they might have,” explained Verschoor.

So far in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, most of the meters have been successfully installed.

“You are 96 per cent installed. So only a few hundred to go,” she said.

However, just because someone doesn’t have a smart meter installed doesn’t mean that they have been postponing the process.

“The meters that are left to install are mostly customers who had their meters delayed but also in some cases we need specialized labor to exchange the meter. They are some commercial meters left and there are some situations where customers may have built a deck or built their house around it in some way ... in those cases we need a little bit more time to work with those customers to figure out how to get that meter exchanged,” she said.

While some people still have concerns and questions about these new meters, Verschoor explained that some of those concerns stem from wrong information or misunderstandings.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about the new meters and so what we’re doing is making sure that all of our customers have the facts about the program. What we find is that once we are able to chat with the customer and answering their questions and provide them with the facts that we are finding that they do become comfortable with taking the meter,” said Verschoor.

However, not everyone is convinced the smart meters are the best option. Sharon Noble has been concerned about smart meters for two years and feels so strongly against smart meters that she started a Stop Smart Meters Coalition.

“I have been fighting involuntary microwave radiation for several years. We are being exposed to this dangerous environmental toxin when evidence has been available for decades that serious health effects result from prolonged exposure to even low levels of pulsed radiation. DNA is damaged, cell leak, hormones are impaired, neurological damage occurs. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable,” she said in an email interview.

When asked why the need for these new meters, Verschoor explained that having the smart meters means BC Hydro will be able to serve the public better.

“The new meters have a radio on board and that radio is active for about a minute and a half a day and it sends information back to BC Hydro about your electricity consumption and so it allows us to actually bill you automatically instead of sending a meter reader,” she said.

But Noble believes that having a smart meter installed in people home will emit RF radiation and that people are continually surrounded by radiation.

“We must work to reduce this wherever possible. I choose not to use a cell phone, a cordless phone or WiFi … now Hydro is telling me I must have a transmitter on my home. This is not going to happen. People can turn off their wireless devices or choose not to use them but smart meters will be radiating 24/7 and we have no choice,” said Noble.

In addition, according to Verschoor, these new meters give BC Hydro more timely and accurate information.

“It sends us a signal as soon as your power is out and it will also enable you because we will get data more frequently, it will actually allow us to provide you with your electricity consumption by the hour on your online account,” she explained.

Having electricity consumption by the hour gives customers a more up to date idea of how much electricity they are using, she said.

“We’ll know exactly who much you used to date. It will tell you what your bill is going to be at the end of the billing period and it will allow you to compare your electricity use to outside temperature for example or to homes of a similar size so you can see what you’re doing. It gives customers a lot more information that they can manage their electricity use and actually reduce their bills if they make some changes,” she said.

In a local Social Media group, some people have noticed that since the smart meter installation, there has been a large increase in their billing amount. In some cases, these local people have reported having bills as high as $350 after their meter was installed. Others have reported that their meter has read “Error” since being installed.

For the people of the North, Verschoor says that having a smart meter is something that will help with accurate billing when a high snowpack would normally prevent meter readers from accessing the old meters..

“The difference is that we won’t have to send a meter reader to your home anymore and you will know that when you’ve got high snowpack up there in the North, it’s pretty hard to read meters sometimes or even get access because road conditions are very bad. What happens is we actually have to estimate bills. If we underestimated the bill, then there is a catch up bill somewhere down the line that can be much higher than what the customer is being billed and sometimes that surprises folks especially over the winter months,” explained Verschoor.

“We had a lot of questions about bills last winter because there were a number of meter reading errors and miss estimates, and so with the new meters because we get to electricity use data every day, we’ll actually be able to provide you with your bill to date online and so they’re won’t be any surprises anymore, we’ll actually have that information and we won’t have to wait months to actually true it up,” she explained.

While the date for complete installation of all smart meters has changed, Verschoor is confident that it won’t put the program behind.

“It doesn’t change the completion date for the program. The meters are really the first phase. The program itself actually runs through until physical 2014. Really the next step for us in the program are about optimizing the new system and testing it to make sure all of the automated parts are working as they should so that we can actually start offering those automated services to customers.”

The extension of the smart meters installation date is has allowed some of those fighting against smart meter installation to continue to be smart meter-free.

“The extension is important because it is a result of more than 150,000 homes refusing to have these dangerous meters. Our voices have had an effect and hopefully will tell the politicians that this program must be stopped,” Noble explained.

“The extension was a result of all the people who refused to have the meter. We have said that we have civil rights to live without intrusion into our homes. Our health and privacy should not be ignored. People should have the chance to demand removal of a smart meter … many people got meters before they knew anything about them.”



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