Smart Meters coming to Kootenays soon: BC Hydro rep

Hydro representative Gary Murphy is touring B.C. giving presentations about Hydro's controversial Smart Meter program.

BC Hydro’s Chief Project Officer for the Smart Meter Project Gary Murphy is touring the province attempting to allay fears about the project and prepare the way for a smooth installation period. He gave a presentation on the program to Nakusp Village Council on Aug. 23.

The outlay costs for the program are being covered by a unique kind of loan that Murphy assured would keep the cost from being transferred to Hydro users.

The projected savings that will come from the smart meter implementation are to pay off the debt within the next 20 years, he said.

Future projected savings were prominently featured in the presentation, the majority of which would come from putting a cork in the flow of stolen energy.

BC Hydro calculates loss of revenue due to theft estimated at $100 million a year, with marijuana grow-ops named as the biggest culprits.

Murphy said that the smart meters won’t slow down the big grow-ops, but he did hint that future phases of the project would be more challenging even to larger producers.

For him, the issue isn’t the legal status of marijuana, it’s the power bill not being paid.

According to Murphy, big-time operators are already getting off the grid, generating their own power in order to escape detection.

The new meters are being marketed as energy conserving for the individual as well as the Crown corporation.

Any individual savings gained through smart meters will come with changes in consumer behaviour.

Although the provincial government has said there will not be the option of cheaper rates for voluntary non-peak time of use rates at the moment, he said he would be interested in seeing that happen eventually.

Murphy said he wanted BC Hydro to be seen as “conservation advisors” to the public, and said that the company would likely be increasing call centre staff in order to handle power consumption questions.

The trend is toward more and more automation with utilities around the world, with fewer and fewer human faces to be seen, only voices to be heard over the phone and data available online.

This is seen as an increased consumer interface with the company.

Murphy claimed that consumers want the convenience of power, to be able to flip a switch and have the light come on.

Generally, he said, they don’t want anything more than access to billing information or quick resolution to power outages.

However, he was quick to point out that smart meters were equipped with the technology that would allow easier adaption to electric car technology and small power producers who want to sell their power back to the grid.

One of the most controversial issues surrounding smart metering is the potential harmful effects of the smart meter data messages emitted from the machines several times a day.

The signal strength from the meters is measured to be less than 1/100th of a cell phone, according to BC Hydro’s data.

Murphy was staunch in his declaration that they were safe, and declared that alarmist claims about the meters’ potential ill effects were more harmful.

Although he was unable to name particulars, he did say that assertions of that kind were often put forward by consultants looking to profit by frightening individuals with pseudo-science.

However, the major problem with the emissions may in fact be that although individuals can choose not to use a cell phone for any reason, choosing not to have a smart meter would mean choosing not to have electricity.

And as Murphy told me, being on the grid means having access to information and technology that create opportunities for people and communities.

Having more opportunity is often seen as having more choice, but in this case, that opportunity can only be accessed one way: through the installation of a smart meter.

If individuals do decide to move the location of their meter when the new smart ones arrive, they will have to pay for that decision. BC Hydro will not be picking up the tab.