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Power cut after smart meter installed

Teresa Tuazon said her privacy rights were ignored when BC Hydro cut the power to her house. - Martin van den Hemel photo
Teresa Tuazon said her privacy rights were ignored when BC Hydro cut the power to her house.
— image credit: Martin van den Hemel photo

A Richmond couple is demanding an apology, compensation and answers from BC Hydro after the electrical utility cut power to their home without any notification based solely on a smart meter installer’s suspicion a marijuana grow-op was located inside.

Teresa Tuazon told The Richmond Review on Monday that a smart meter was installed at their home on Aug. 11, but the following day, power was for some reason cut to their 100-year-old house at the corner of No. 7 Road and Westminster Highway.

When Tuazon arrived home from work that Friday, she was greeted by the hum of a gasoline electrical generator, the noise from which they had to endure for nearly three weeks until power was reconnected on Aug. 31.

She and her husband Rick Flello were told by their landlord that after their smart meter was installed, the technician noticed something that made him notify the landlord there was likely a marijuana grow-op inside the home.

Without contacting the couple, alerting the police, or giving some sort of advanced notification, power was cut.

Jim Nicholson, director of customer care for BC Hydro, said the smart meter installer saw signs of tampering with the old meter, and notified BC Hydro, who then the following day conducted its own inspection and then made the decision to disconnect the power supply.

“In this case for us, our primary concern is employee safety and homeowner safety,” Nicholson said. What was discovered could have put the home at risk of a fire or something else, he said.

But he couldn’t explain why BC Hydro didn’t try to contact Flello or Tuazon to inform them of the safety hazard, or why if this was such a hazard, why it waited an entire day before disconnecting the power.

“We would definitely be happy to speak with the customer about the incident,” Nicholson said.

When it was pointed out that this incident happened more than a month ago, and BC Hydro still hadn’t reached out to the customer, Nicholson said: “It’s really difficult to comment on that.”

Flello said he wasn’t initially that upset about the power being clipped. He thought his new home might contain some sort of electrical fire hazard, and appreciated that BC Hydro was making an effort to keep him safe.

But when he learned his home’s power was disrupted based solely on the suspicion of the installer and a potential marijuana grow-op, that made him upset, he said.

“That really pissed me off,” Flello said. “If he really suspected that, why didn’t he call the cops? If you want to come and inspect the house, come in any time. Just call me.”

Acting on the installer’s advice, the landlord, Kal Mahal, hired an electrician to conduct an inspection, but nothing criminal was found.

However, power couldn’t immediately be reconnected because Tuazon and Flello had made it onto B.C. Hydro’s “bad-boy list”—rumoured to be a list for suspected grow-op tenants—meaning they weren’t prioritized.

For some reason, in spite of nothing untoward being discovered, their BC Hydro account was cancelled, Tuazon said.

Aside from the inconvenience of having the noisy generator in place—to spare their neighbours, they avoided operating it at night—the contents of their fridge and freezer spoiled.

Timed precisely with the power disruption, their Shaw personal video recorder stopped working, as did the electronic components to their stove and their coffee maker seized up.

Flello recalled the faint smell of burning wires at the time the power was cut, and later realized that the power supply cord to his Xbox unit stopped working. Luckily, he had a spare that works fine.

Flello and Tuazon believe their privacy rights were ignored by BC Hydro, which should at least have given them 24 or 48 hours notice of an inspection.

Asked if BC Hydro would offer them an apology, Nicholson dodged the question, and said he was committed to getting all the details about the incident, and sitting down with them and having a full discussion.

“We’re sympathetic to the inconvenience,” he said, but added that what could have transpired would have been much worse, such as in the event of a fire.

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