Opinion

B.C. VIEWS: Regulator’s reading on smart meters

Sharon Noble protests BC Hydro
Sharon Noble protests BC Hydro's wireless meter program outside municipal convention in Vancouver, September 2011.
— image credit: Black Press

VICTORIA – Despite efforts to keep the smart meter “controversy” alive by repeating imaginary health claims, the end is near.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett has made what sounds like a final offer to holdouts. You want to keep your old mechanical meter, fill your boots. It’ll cost you an extra $35 a month, starting in December. If you insist on a “radio off” wireless meter, there will be a setup fee of $100 and a monthly fee of $20 to have someone collect the readings.

These charges are to be reviewed by the B.C. Utilities Commission, the independent panel that smart meter opponents want to review BC Hydro’s whole smart grid project.

As it happens, the BCUC recently did just that for an application by FortisBC to install wireless meters for its Okanagan and Kootenay customers. The meters were approved, and the findings are instructive.

The BCUC report notes that it received “many” complaints about smart meter signals being added to existing radio frequency (RF) sources. Some used familiar scare rhetoric about “toxic microwave radiation” that’s promoted by people trying to make money by exploiting fear.

One of the experts retained by FortisBC was Dr. Yakov Shkolnikov, an electrical engineer with advanced degrees from Princeton and Cornell Universities. His testimony was not challenged by any of the lineup of opponents. A sample of his findings illustrates the absurdity of this whole discussion.

Shkolnikov calculated that a cell phone in use generates radio signals that reach 10 per cent of the international safety code limit. A microwave oven generates 2.3 per cent of the safe limit. A cordless phone: 1.25 per cent. A wi-fi signal: 0.0045 per cent.

(See chart below)

A bank of smart meters, not separated by a wall, registers 0.0019 per cent. The natural background RF level is 0.013 per cent. Note the decimal place. The level in the middle of a wilderness is nearly 10 times that received from a bank of meters.

BCUC staff added, for comparison, the radio signal level emitted by a human body. It’s 0.018 per cent. What this means is your spouse snoring beside you is a stronger source of RF than a whole wall of smart meters.

Experts put up by opponents didn’t fare so well. One was Jerry Flynn, a retired Canadian Forces officer from Kelowna who travels around taking readings, talking to elderly people about alleged hazards of meters, and making claims to the media about what he has called the single biggest threat to human health today.

The BCUC found his military experience not “relevant,” and his evidence frequently “incorrect, exaggerated and/or unsubstantiated.”

Then there was Curtis Bennett, who described himself as “chief science officer” for a company called Thermoguy. He spoke on behalf of West Kootenay Concerned Citizens. In a 2012 letter to the B.C. energy ministry, Bennett warned of the danger of smart meters triggering “molecular earthquakes.”

The BCUC panel wrote: “While Mr. Bennett has an electrician’s knowledge of electrical systems, it is clear that he is unqualified to give expert opinion evidence on the health effects of RF, exposure standards for RF, engineering, physics or geological phenomena such as earthquakes.”

Citizens for Safe Technology put up one Dr. Donald Maisch, who claimed to have experience with this issue in Australia.

The panel noted that Maisch runs EMFacts Consultancy, and agreed with FortisBC’s argument that “Dr. Maisch’s consulting livelihood depends upon public fears and concerns about RF exposure.”

Would you like this circus of quackery to be restaged over BC Hydro’s program, at your expense?

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalNews.com

BCUC chart

 

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