Stop smart meter program, says city

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Homeowners should be given the option to opt out of B.C. Hydro's smart meter program, civic politicians said this week.

At a committee meeting Monday, city council endorsed a resolution calling on the provincial government to halt the installation of smart meters until questions around health, privacy and other concerns are answered.

"This is a real strong message we're sending to the province," said Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt. "But that's the most that we can do."

The city is adding its voice to a Union of B.C. Resolution adopted by the majority of B.C. municipalities in September—demanding the province back off.

"We as the city who have the residents who are forced to get these meters have absolutely no authority or power to stop the installation of them."

According to a staff report, BC Hydro has been forced to install the meters by the Clean Energy Act. That's turned the attention of local politicians to provincial officials.

"If we add our voice to others that have already voiced their opinion, there's a cumulative effect," said Mayor Malcolm Brodie.

City council's resolution also urges the province to give Hydro customers the ability to say no to a meter—whether or not one of the new wireless devices has already been installed.

Homeowners in Richmond are among the first in B.C. to have their analog meters replaced with the new technology, which critics say present possible health and environmental problems related to radio frequency signals. Residents have complained their meters are replaced with little warning, prompting Coun. Bill McNulty to conclude the Crown corporation has done an "absolutely shabby job" in communicating with its customers.

"The citizens of Richmond, those that are concerned, have been asking us to stand up for them, and I'm prepared to stand up for them and support the moratorium [request]."

Coun. Ken Johnston said citizens need freedom of choice.

"There should be the opportunity to opt out. Even if there's a cost to it to keep your old meter to opt out, there should be that opportunity."

The resolution comes four weeks after a citizens' group appeared before city council urging them to do something.

James Lu, Richmond's medical health officer, told the city the meters shouldn't be cause for alarm, quoting provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall in a letter  that smart meters "do not constitute a threat to the health of the public."

BC Hydro maintains exposure to a smart meter's radio frequency over 20 years is equivalent to exposure during a single 30-minute cellphone call. In a submission to the city, the Crown corporation also noted the meters are "a safe and cost effective way to modernize the electricity system" that will help keep rates low by reducing waste and other costs.

But Coun. Harold Steves noted the significant cost of the meters—$930 million—comes at a time when BC Hydro is losing money. Hydro lost $249 million in 2009-10, Auditor General John Doyle said in a report last month.

Said Steves: "Economically it's not a good thing for the province to be doing. If it's questionable as to the benefits of smart meters, then it's questionable as to whether we should be going that far into debt to pay for them."

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