Debating smart meters

The ongoing implementation of smart meters across the province is a popular topic, whether you’re at the company water-cooler or on the sidelines of your child’s soccer game. We’ve asked two of the leaders in the conversation to debate the issue for our readers.

B.C. Hydro plans to equip every house in the province with a smart meter.

B.C. Hydro plans to equip every house in the province with a smart meter.

The ongoing implementation of smart meters across the province is a popular topic, whether you’re at the company water-cooler or on the sidelines of your child’s soccer game. We’ve asked two of the leaders in the conversation to debate the issue for our readers.

Colwood resident Sharon Noble is the director of the Coalition to Stop Smart Meters, an outspoken opponent of B.C. Hydro’s plan.

Greg Reimer, B.C. Hydro’s executive vice president of transmission and distribution, has agreed to respond to Noble’s concerns.

Sharon Noble question #1:

People with health problems, such as MS, epilepsy, and electro- sensitivity, or devices such as deep brain implants or pacemakers will suffer greatly from exposure to electromagnetic radiation like that emitted by smart meters. Even people with doctor’s certificates are being told they must have wireless meters installed, with no exceptions. How can B.C. Hydro justify putting these people’s lives in jeopardy?

B.C. Hydro Response 1:

Smart meters are safe, as confirmed by health and science authorities including B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer.

Smart meters communicate for a total average of one minute per day. In fact, exposure to radio frequency during a 20-year lifespan of a smart meter is equivalent to the exposure during a single 30-minute cellphone call.

B.C. Hydro’s smart meters are well below Health Canada’s exposure limits and the precautionary limits set by Switzerland, the country with the most rigorous standards in the world.

We take our customers’ questions and concerns very seriously. Additional information about the program can be found at bchydro.com/smartmeters.

Customers can also contact us directly at smartmeters@bchydro.com.

Sharon Noble rebuttal 1:

I did not receive an answer to my question but I will respond to Hydro’s response:

Medical research, dating back 35 years and verified by peer-review, has shown quantifiable harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation on human biology and function at exposure levels that are 2,000 times below those emitted by the smart meters.

The B.C. Provincial Health Officer is only using Safety Code 6 as his yardstick, despite the fact B.C. Hydro’s former medical advisor, Dr. John Blatherwick, has discounted SC6 as out-of-date and too high

Again, I would like my initial question to be answered. How will these people be accommodated?

B.C. Hydro rebuttal 1:

Radio frequency has been studied extensively over the past three decades and, in more than 25,000 peer-reviewed studies, no relationship between low levels of radio frequency exposure and health has been demonstrated. An exposure level at 2,000 times below the level emitted by B.C. Hydro smart meters is so low it cannot be measured by any measurement device today, and therefore would not have been measured in studies dating back 35 years.

For those individuals who have unique health circumstances, B.C. Hydro is committed to working with them on a case-by-case basis to determine mutually agreeable solutions.

Sharon Noble question #2:

B.C. Hydro says smart meters will save people money, yet in every province, state and country metered homes have seen drastic increases on utility bills. How will your system differ from all the others to keep our bills down?

B.C. Hydro Response 2:

The smart metering program will pay for itself by helping B.C. Hydro manage the electricity system more efficiently and cost-effectively. For example, the program allows a more accurate measurement of the amount of electricity on the system to help reduce wasted electricity. Another example is that we will be able to more efficiently dispatch crews during power outages, thereby reducing the number of repeat trips to a neighbourhood and streamlining the restoration process.

Smart meters will save families and businesses about $70 million over the next three years alone through lower rates. In the longer term, the program returns $1.6 billion in benefits over 20 years. All of those savings will be passed on to customers, helping to keep rates among the lowest in North America.

Smart meters also help customers reduce their own electricity bills by giving them more information about how much power they are using.

Sharon Noble rebuttal 2:

Again, a non-answer. Every other utility company made the same claims yet experience has shown that utility bills increase drastically. Again, I ask, how will B.C. Hydro’s system differ from all the others? The $70 million in rate pressure reduction is a direct result of laying off meter readers. Broken down, this figure represents $10 per household per year in B.C. with several hundred people out of work. Furthermore, the claims of $1.6 billion in savings breaks down to $1.20 per household per month, after deducting the cost of the program itself.

B.C. Hydro rebuttal 2:

Just like there are several types of cars or computers on the market, there are different types of smart metering systems in the market, designed for different business objectives.  B.C. Hydro’s smart metering program includes system-wide upgrades to the electricity grid of which smart meters are one element.

The smart metering program will help us operate a more efficient system that will get the lights back on faster and more safely in the event of an outage; provide customers with tools to manage their energy use and save money; and keep our rates low by reducing waste and other costs. Specific examples of energy savings and avoided costs include not having to sample our meters, theft detection and voltage optimization. The addition of two million new pieces of technology on the grid will create new technology-based jobs, as well as new economic opportunities in the green energy field.

Sharon Noble question #3:

Our wireless meters cost $500 each. Wired meters are offered by some utility companies in Ontario at no additional cost, communicating via a telephone or cable line. In Idaho only wired meters are being used, and the cost is $191 each. Yet Hydro says that it would cost $35,000 for a wired meter. Please explain.

B.C. Hydro Response 3:

The cost of the smart meter plus installation is approximately $150 per meter. The rest of the program involves upgrading and modernizing our electricity grid which delivers power to 1.8 million customers – residents and businesses – all around British Columbia 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Smart meters are the new global standard for a modern power grid with utilities throughout North America moving to these systems.

Over the last four years, BC Hydro has thoroughly researched all of the available options and after an open, competitive tendering process, chose a smart metering system that was the best possible solution for our customer, operational and infrastructure requirements. Other options would either not work in British Columbia with our existing electricity system, infrastructure and topography, or would be prohibitively expensive.

Sharon Noble rebuttal 3:

Again, a non-answer. Please explain the figure that has been given many times, why would a wired meter cost $35,000?

Hydro would need a new smart grid infrastructure regardless of whether the meters are wired or wireless. While a wireless system may well be the easiest for BC Hydro, it is the most insecure, being the easiest to hack. Most of the province has a fiber optic network in place that would be greatly superior in terms of security. Such a system is being installed in Idaho for less than the amount BC Hydro is projecting.

B.C. Hydro Response 3:

The OpenWay smart meter manufactured by Itron is currently not available as a wired smart metering solution for residential customers.  The statement regarding a wired option costing $35,000 is related to custom-built meter solutions for industrial customers, who consume large amounts of electricity, and have dedicated telecommunications infrastructure.

Idaho has implemented a power line carrier solution, not a fiber optic network.  Power line carrier, while still safe, actually has a higher radio frequency emission profile as the data is transmitted over the wires themselves.  Organizations concerned about electromagetic sensitivity have stated their concern about this technology.  Additionally, this infrastructure would cost significantly more to implement.

BC Hydro already operates a comprehensive security program to protect customer information and electricity grid data across all our systems today.  Smart metering will be incorporated into theose security programs.  Further, we are working with a globally recognized, top-tier security services firm to independently test the specific security and privacy measures implemented in our smart metering system.

Sharon Noble question #4:

Hydro assures us that the microwave radiation level from one smart meter is low. Where is the testing on a fully functioning system in a dense neighbourhood with each home metered, collector units on some homes, WiMax transmitters/receivers operating, with all units communicating/chattering with each unit continuously, combined with the ambient levels from homes with many wireless devices?

B.C. Hydro Response 4:

The BC Centre for Disease Control has conducted independent testing on BC Hydro’s smart meters at our request, which found the meters to be well below the applicable public limit of power density exposure.

Smart meters are installed outside customer homes and the power density reduces with distance. Three metres from the smart meter, the radio frequency signal drops to less than 0.5 per cent of the Health Canada exposure limits.

In high-density residential complexes, like apartment buildings, the meters communicate with each other using collaborative network technology. Due to the closeness of meters within the meter bank, the cumulative effect peaks at just two times the power density of a single meter. This is equal to spending four minutes in a wireless internet café over one year.

Radio frequency from smart meters is much lower than many common everyday items that we would all likely consider safe. For example, radio towers broadcast using radio frequency at all times and people are exposed to these radio frequencies whether you listen to an AM/FM radio or not.

Sharon Noble rebuttal 4:

Again a non answer.

BCCDC tested only to Safety Code 6 standards, which are among the worst in the world. Even Hydro’s own medical advisor has said they are out of date and inadequate.. Furthermore, HC Hydro’s claims that the cumulative effects are less than 4 minutes in an  internet café are unsubstantiated opinion – despite requests for supporting evidence of testing and research.

Again, I ask has testing been done of a fully functional system in a typical neighbourhoos, and in a high-density complex?

B.C. Hydro Response 4:

B.C. Hydro has benchmarked our smart meters against Switzerland’s standards for radio frequency exposure, which are considered to be the most stringent in the world. Switzerland’s precautionary radio frequency exposure limit in highly sensitive areas such as schools and hospitals is 4.5 microwatts per centimetre squared. In comparison, the power density from BC Hydro’s smart meters at the same distance of 20 cm (8 inches) is about 2 microwatts per centimetre squared.

The BC Centre for Disease Control does not have equipment that measures at the low level output of BC Hydro’s smart meters.

• The News thanks both participants for their time.

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