On the defensive and battered by a growing wave of critics, Energy Minister Rich Coleman closed the week trying to insist that he wasn’t forcing an unpopular smart-meter program on tens of thousands of unwilling and angry British Columbians.
But numerous B.C. Hydro customers — who say they have been pressured, tricked, ignored or otherwise forced to accept one of the new meters in the past few weeks — tell a different story.
Rae Dhesi opened the door of her South Vancouver home Tuesday to find an employee of Hydro subcontractor Corix Utilities.
“The fella was very nice and said he had to install the meter,” said Dhesi, a retired mother of two.
“I said, ‘I don’t want a smart meter. I’ve phoned [Hydro] and told them I don’t want it.’ ”
The installer explained Hydro’s new policy: Anyone who refuses a meter gets an in-person visit from a Hydro official to talk about their concerns. If the person can’t be swayed, Hydro and Coleman say, the company isn’t allowed to force installation.
Dhesi went inside to look after her children. Ten minutes later, there was a knock on the door, but she said she was busy and didn’t answer it. Within five minutes, the installer had swapped out her meter and left, she said. She didn’t hear from the Crown corporation again.
Like some others, Dhesi said she’s worried about the health effects of the meters’ wireless technology, which transmits data to Hydro computers. She doesn’t want it near her children and is demanding her analogue meter back. Hydro, which has described the smart meters as a necessary modernization, has said it won’t return old meters.
Jim Downing also told Hydro he did not want a new device, even putting a sign on his Surrey home’s meter box. But when Corix installers arrived on Jan. 25, he said, only his girlfriend was home.
The installer told her it was mandatory and that she didn’t have a choice, he said. “So she said, ‘Oh well, OK.’ ”
Downing was furious: Corix took permission from someone who wasn’t even the registered customer, he said. “I was not too pleased, for sure.”
The same day Corix swapped Downing’s meter, the Times Colonist published an op-ed by Coleman saying Hydro would install the devices only with the customer’s consent.
The ensuing confusion over whether customers are able to opt out of the $1-billion smart-meter program prompted the B.C. NDP to call for a cooling-off period.
Coleman dismissed those concerns. “I think the only confusion [is] sometimes I wonder if people read stuff,” he told reporters Thursday, referring to his newspaper op-ed.
“It says very clearly we’re going back to talk to our customers, we’ll not force any customers to take the meter, we will install the ones after we talk to them and re-educate them.”
B.C. Hydro, he added, will “work with them in a respectful way.”
But that’s not good enough for people like Grace Kim, who are stuck with a device they specifically — and repeatedly — rejected.
The stay-at-home mom sent two letters to Hydro refusing a smart meter. Kim said she’s almost always home — except for that one moment in mid-January when Hydro arrived at her Vancouver house.
“I don’t want to fall into the conspiracy-theory category, but I do feel someone was checking on when I was home and installed it when I wasn’t,” she said.
Kim said she is trying to make the best choices for her children’s health, but Hydro hasn’t given her any choices other than a mandatory wireless meter on the outside wall of her children’s bedroom.
“All I’m saying is give us options,” she said.
Now Kim and others are zeroing in on Coleman, demanding answers as the May provincial election approaches.
“He threw that out there, that without consent you’re not going to get a smart meter,” Kim said.
“Well, I have a smart meter. So what are you going to do about it?”
Coleman did not return repeated requests for an interview.