With over 23,000 smart meters set for the Peace Region, the suggestion that these devices are causing electrical fires is concerning some local residents.
Joann McDonald said her home has a smart meter, although it was installed before she moved in. She said if the safety issues are true, she should be allowed to have it removed.
“I don’t want anything stuck to my house that’s going to burn it down with me and my kids inside,” she said. But she added the concerns would need to be proven before she would take a stance either way.
Nick Opp said he is distrustful of the government’s waffling on the issue: “I think they need to come right out and say, are they going to install them when people are around or not, and is that going to just up and change after the election?”
Rich Coleman, minister of Energy and Mines, wrote in an editorial that the 85,000 people refusing smart meters, or “holdouts,” would be approached and persuaded to allow the installations. However, it is unclear whether the issue will arise again after the May provincial election.
Complicating matters, according to Surrey-Whiterock MLA Gordon Hogg, Coleman had advised him homeowners would not be forced to accept smart meter installations.
Opponents believe smart meters’ wireless technology interferes with medical equipment, like pacemakers, and that the constant radiation has negative health impacts. The meters also measure the type and frequency of appliances used, invading privacy, said Sharon Noble, director of the Coalition to Stop Smart Meters.
The electricity provider is playing “Russian roulette” with citizens’ safety, she said, adding that the devices have been responsible for fires all over the country, including in Vernon, where a restaurant was destroyed.
“We were appalled to find that no one within government, not even the B.C. Fire Commissioner, has been keeping any record of the rash of smart meter fires here in B.C.,” Noble said.
“This lack of documentation allows Hydro to say that the meters are safe and have caused no fires,” she said.
That the fire in Vernon was caused by the smart meter is being disputed by that town’s fire department. Deputy Chief Lawrie Skolrood said the fire resulted from the meter’s base, not the device itself, and could have been the result of old connections – no evidence showed it was the fault of the smart meter.
“The fact of the matter is, it hasn’t happened with the analog meters and it’s only happening with these smart meters,” said Noble.
“The analogs were glass and metal and could handle overheating. Overheating occurs when there are power surges and these meters melt. They’re made of plastic. And there is no surge protection.”
Greg Alexis, BC Hydro spokesperson, said the allegations of smart meters being a fire hazard are simply false.
“It’s not true and there has been no evidence where a smart meter has been the cause of a fire in British Columbia,” he said via email. “In fact, the risk of a smart meter exchange causing electrical problems is extremely low as the meter doesn’t carry a charge.
“The installation of new meters involves an inspection of every customer’s meter socket. This is a unique opportunity for BC Hydro to identify and fix safety issues on site. To date, we have identified over 2,000 cases to date where homeowners had pre-existing unsafe meter socket conditions. As part of the Smart Metering Program, these situations have been repaired by an electrician at no cost to the homeowner.
“If it were ever determined that the installation of a new meter was responsible for any damage, BC Hydro will take full responsibility and cover the cost of the repairs.”
In an August 2012 report by B.C. Fire Chief Len Garis, he argued that fires occurring after smart meter installation were incidental, and in fact fell in frequency overall.
“This whole issue is a matter of civil rights,” said Noble.
“Under our constitution we have a right to live free and secure in our homes. Free of invasion, free of threat, and right now Hydro’s not respecting civil rights. Why should we have to have something we’re fearful of, whether for health, fire, or higher bills? We have a right to say no, and by gosh, we should demand it. If we don’t, we’ll have only ourselves to blame.”