Cliff Paluck (right)

Regional district debates smart meters

The RDCK wants FortisBC to let customers opt out of smart meters if they wish — but has stopped short of calling for a moratorium.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay wants FortisBC to give customers the chance to opt out of smart meters — but has stopped short of supporting a local group’s call for a moratorium on the controversial devices.

Cliff Paluck of Castlegar led a delegation before the board Thursday representing a group of Grandview Heights residents as well as the Kootenay chapter of Citizens for Safe Technology.

He cited a litany of concerns about the meters in urging the RDCK to ask the province to ban mandatory installations “until the major issues and problems are independently identified and satisfactorily addressed and alternative solutions provided at no additional cost to customers.”

Paluck said they’re worried about possible health effects from electromagnetic radiation generated by the meters, as well as safety, privacy, and accuracy. He pointed to a series of studies that suggested various problems.

“Mandatory exposure to wireless meters would cause severe suffering for many in our communities,” he wrote in a submission to the board.

Blair Weston of FortisBC, in a separate presentation, said the company has not yet applied to the BC Utilities Commission to install the meters nor decided on the exact technology it wants to use.

However, he said there would be many advantages to “advanced metering infrastructure,” as FortisBC calls it, including a more reliable grid, less wasted energy, better balanced loads, and reduced theft.

The meters would transmit data by antennae four or five times a day for a few seconds at a time, sending out a pulse to a collector station with billing data, Weston said.

The radio frequencies would be within Health Canada guidelines as well as more stringent European standards, he added.

The changeover is expected to cost $40 million, but FortisBC doesn’t believe it will have any effect on power rates.

Although Paluck’s group said they would be much more comfortable with wired meters, Weston said they rejected it as more costly and lacking the same bandwidth.

Rural Kaslo director Andy Shadrack initially proposed a motion calling for a moratorium on the meters, but withdrew it when other directors expressed concern the wording was too adversarial.

“People with health concerns are being told to suck it up and deal with it. I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Shadrack said.

The board instead passed a motion suggested by East Shore director Garry Jackman, which called on FortisBC to consult the public on the specific technology it selects and provide an opt-out policy.

Jackman said he believes there is a place for smart meters, but utilities have to be proactive about reassuring the public.

“Putting people in a position of having fear and uncertainty isn’t right,” he said. “Even if somebody doesn’t have health risks, worrying about the possibility is wrong.”

Jackman adds it’s “critical” people aren’t forced into something, given the level of uncertainty.

Rural Nelson director Ramona Faust said she’s concerned people who live near the data collection points won’t know it — which may infringe on their rights.

Silverton director Leah Main said people have responded strongly to the issue because BC Hydro was ordered to implement smart meters without going through the utilities commission, “adding to a feeling of powerlessness and getting screwed over by government again.”

She likened it to the HST debate.

Nelson mayor John Dooley said while he respected the delegation’s presentation, it contained more theoreticals than fact.

“There is a complete lack of understanding by the public and most of these presentations are based on emotion,” he said.

Dooley noted the city has received questions and complaints about smart meters, even though Nelson Hydro doesn’t use them. (Its meters do report customer consumption wirelessly, but lack many other features.)

The motion passed with a few directors opposed.

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