B.C.’s Opposition is calling on the government and B.C. Hydro to clarify the swirling confusion around whether people can opt out of the smart meter program.
Energy Minister Rich Coleman and B.C. Hydro refused interviews for a second day Wednesday, after news surfaced this week that they were backing away from plans to force smart meters on unwilling customers.
Silence isn’t good enough, said NDP energy critic John Horgan, who accused the government of trying to deflect a negative issue until after the May 14 provincial election.
Coleman, who shepherded legislation directing Hydro into the program in the first place, appears to have now changed his mind — but won’t stand up and say so publicly, Horgan said.
“It’s really unfair to the people of B.C. Hydro to direct them by legislation to do something, and then abandon them when it’s politically convenient,” he said. “That’s really what they’ve done.”
He called Coleman’s silence “irresponsible at best” and said the minister has a responsibility to stand up and show some leadership on behalf of a Crown corporation he has “cut adrift” amid criticism.
B.C. Hydro has said the $1-billion smart meter replacement program would provide customers with more accurate billing, replace manual meter readers with wireless technology, and improve restoration time during power outages.
But some people have resisted, saying the wireless technology will harm their health.
Hydro has insisted the program is not optional.
The standoff culminated in mid-January when B.C. Hydro told the Times Colonist that it planned to dispatch a new wave of meter installers, who would ignore customer signs instructing Hydro not to install a smart meter and remove lock boxes erected to obstruct installers.
Within days, Coleman issued a statement saying: “B.C. Hydro will not install a new meter without the homeowner’s consent.”
Hydro repeated Coleman’s wording in its own statement on Wednesday, but would not take questions on whether the pause is temporary.
About 93 per cent of B.C. Hydro customers have had their meters switched. Of the 120,000 yet to be changed, 85,000 are at households of people who refuse the devices, B.C. Hydro said. The remainder are commercial customers.
Hydro and Coleman have also refused to comment on claims by Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg that customers who don’t want the devices can, in effect, opt out of the program by telling Hydro one final time that they refuse an installation.
Hogg’s letter also suggested that constituents could contact Coleman and B.C. Hydro if they have a medical condition that would be affected by a smart meter and ask for the device to be removed.
But Hydro said it won’t honour such a request.
“We can’t remove a smart meter once it has been installed because they are now standard operating equipment,” B.C. Hydro spokesman Greg Alexis said in a statement. “Also the old meters are being recycled and are no longer available.”
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