Hydro defends smart meters
They’re only the size of a small toaster, but the plan to install smart meters in homes across B.C. is a heated issue.
The topic will be landing on Kamloops city council’s doorstep today (Nov. 22), as officials with BC Hydro make the rounds to provide an overview of the project and clear up perceived misconceptions.
The Crown corporation has argued it needs to modernize the power grid and smart meters are an important step in doing so.
Essentially, smart meters are digital meters that can capture and record when and how much power is consumed or produced.
The meters come with a computer chip which records hourly usage data, while a radio sends the information to BC Hydro.
BC Hydro said the devices will save the corporation $70 million in the next three years and allow customers to keep track of their power use.
However, the smart-meter plan has drawn plenty of criticism, with opponents citing health and privacy concerns and the potential for electricity bills to increase.
Fiona Taylor, BC Hydro’s deputy project officer for the smart metering and infrastructure program, suggested the meters are safe.
She told KTW during a stop in Kamloops, the exposure to radio frequency from a smart meter over its entire 20-year life span is equivalent to a single 30-minute cellphone call.
“We’re extremely confident they are safe,” Taylor said, noting the meter signals will be lower than those allowed by some of the strictest regulations in the world.
She also noted the meters are only active for one minute per day in total as they send readings to BC Hydro three times a day.
Though rates increased in other jurisdictions like Ontario when smart meters were introduced through time-of-use billing, BC Hydro insists the rate structure will remain the same.
Taylor explained in the case of Ontario, the province had a capacity issue — capacity being described as the infrastructure to carry the power — along with an electricity-consumption concern.
She said B.C. does not have a capacity issue and therefore has no business case to move to time-of-use billing.
“We don’t have a business reason to go to time-of-use rates,” Taylor said.
Instead, the company argued customers will save money because the smart meters will help them manage and understand their energy use better.
Taylor suggested customers will save five to 15 per cent of power just through basic awareness.
She said any increase or change to rates must also be approved by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
As for the privacy and security concerns, Taylor said BC Hydro has also addressed that issue.
She said the company has created multiple layers of defence within the smart-meter program to keep it secure from hackers.
Taylor said the program has three layers of incription, while no customer data is stored on the meters.
She noted BC Hydro hired a firm to try and break into the metering system and they failed.
To date, 7,000 smart meters have been installed in homes in Kamloops.
It’s expected the installation of all smart meters will be complete by the end of 2012.
If people have concerns about the meters, BC Hydro said it will delay the installation of the devices for a while, but at some point the old meters will stop working.
In September, municipal leaders voted 55 per cent in favour of a moratorium on smart meters at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.
Kamloops city council voted against the resolution.
A local chapter of Stop Smart Meters B.C. has formed in opposition to the plan and has held public meeting to discuss the issue.