Are smart meters a smart move in Alberni

The debate over BC Hydro’s new wireless metering system is spirited; and some in Port Alberni say politics are overriding sense.

Port Alberni resident Jack McLeman doesn’t like smart meters and didn’t think he needed one. But when he returned home from a meeting last October he got one.

Port Alberni resident Jack McLeman doesn’t like smart meters and didn’t think he needed one. But when he returned home from a meeting last October he got one.

It was the irony of all ironies.

Port Alberni city councillor Jack McLeman had just returned from the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting last September.

There, members discussed the contentious issue of the B.C. Hydro smart meter program, and voted 55 per cent in favour of a moratorium on their installation.

Energy Minister Rich Coleman played the program up with delegates, telling them that time-of-use billing will encourage off-peak energy use, reduce the need for additional energy capacity and save people money.

But Coleman also said that the government was moving the program forward. That despite protests there was no chance to opt out, and McLeman was about to find out first hand what that meant.

“I just got home from the meeting and the BC Hydro guy came and said that he was installing one on my house,” McLeman said. “I don’t like it but what are you gonna do?”

McLeman’s frustration was shared by critics at city council’s Jan. 28 meeting. But some residents have no problem with the meter changeover and even welcome it.

According to BC Hydro’s website, smart meters deliver power to homes and businesses.

They are encased in glass like the old BC Hydro meters, but have what are akin to a small computer and a cellphone attached.

The meters forensically measure the quantity and quality of power coursing through the provincial grid. They also record consumption data on an hourly basis and automatically detect power outages.

The $900 million program is being supplied by US firm Itron and installed by Corix Utilities.

There are 1.8 million meters to be replaced in B.C, 675,000 of which have already been installed.

In the Alberni Valley, there are 17,800 meters to be changed over, Hydro spokesperson Ted Olynyk said. Work will continue this spring and finish in July.

Some of the changeovers are already taking place. “Some of the old analog meters were already scheduled for replacement so we’re using that opportunity to install smart meters,” Olynyk said.

The program is being carried out all at once by Hydro, whom homeowners gave defacto permission to do so when existing meters were installed.

“The agreements with those allow our staff unfettered access to properties to change out the meters,” Olynyk said. “We already change an average of 40,000 meters a year.”

The agreements also apply to those meters located on federal land, he added.

Olynyk addressed Port Alberni city councillors about the smart meter program and in particular about the concerns people have with it. Those concerns included health and safety, privacy and increasing Hydro rates.

Regarding health concerns, smart meters “have one one-hundredth the strength of a cell phone,” Olynyk said. Four minutes of exposure to a wireless network (Wi-Fi)— already commonly used—equals one-year’s worth of exposure to a smart meter, he added.

In a letter to Port Alberni city council, resident Chris Alemany supported the smart meter program.

Alemany didn’t, however, support Hydro’s public education process regarding the program, nor the B.C. Liberals’ implementation of it.

“The problems with it (program) are political, not practical,” he said.

The health concerns about the meters are “exaggerated to the point of hysteria,” Alemany’s letter noted. Analysis by independent groups has shown that radio frequency radiation from the devices is consistent with Wi-Fi, microwaves, cordless phones and refrigerators, he said.

Security concerns are also overblown, said Alemany, who works in the computer industry. The AES encryption system employed by smart meters is similar to that used in Wi-Fi and is difficult to crack.

“It is easier to break in and find the Post-it note with a password on it than it is to break the encryption,” Alemany said.

Coun. McLeman says he has a bone to pick with Hydro over smart meters and Hydro rates.

McLeman says he noticed an increase in his most recent Hydro bill, which showed a 20 per cent increase in power use.

The increase was despite the fact that McLeman said he used LED Christmas lights, used them less, and didn’t use a heater for his mobile home. “The only difference was that meter,” McLeman said.

Valley resident Rosemarie Buchanan doesn’t take issue with smart meter technology so much as she does those who control it and exclude the public.

Buchanan was doing yard work in November when she noticed that a smart meter was installed on her home.

“It’s very arbitrary and people aren’t being given any choice about this — ambush is a good word,” Buchanan said. “Just because the device is theirs shouldn’t give them a carte blanche to come on your property and change them.”

When you fill out government forms, they often have sections dealing with protection of privacy.

“But we didn’t get that with this,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan’s biggest concern is with Hydro’s plan to charge more for peak time power consumption, which it has defined as between 4-8 p.m. That’s when families are cooking, doing laundry, homework on the computer, Buchanan said.

“It’s punitive to working families, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet,” Buchanan said. “People can do those things at another time but they’re still consuming the same amount of power.”

In January, the Citizens for Safe Technology group launched a province-wide petition opposing smart meters.

It is also seeking an injunction from the B.C. Utilities Commission to halt the program.

Just Posted

Aidan See played for the North Island Silvertips during the 2019-2020 season. (PHOTO COURTESY RON HAYES)
VIJHL: Port Alberni Bombers add hometown talent to roster

Junior B hockey club signs Aidan See, Blake Power and Grayson Erickson

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

The remains of the Mid-Island Co-op in Whiskey Creek along the Alberni Highway on Friday, June 18, after a blaze the day before devastated the gas station. (Michael Briones photo)
VIDEO: Whiskey Creek gas station destroyed by fire after camper van explosion

Nine fire departments responded to the incident, no injuries reported

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read