B.C. Hydro storming ahead with new meters

The battle over smart meters is heating up, with B.C. Hydro dispatching a new wave of installers and warning holdout customers that they can no longer reject the devices.

Thousands of B.C. residents who have refused to accept the meters are receiving letters from B.C. Hydro this month that read “we can no longer delay the installation of a new meter at your home.”

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“The reality is that this is a necessary upgrade to the electricity system that supports our entire province and economy,” said Cindy Verschoor, spokeswoman for the $1-billion program.

“B.C. Hydro needs to compete the installation and move everybody over to the new system, and so we have notified customers that we will actually be coming back to do the installation.”

Hydro has faced fierce opposition from some residents, who say the wireless technology used by the new meters is unhealthy. Many people have blocked Hydro from replacing their old devices. Hydro has insisted the new meters are safe, and will provide more accurate billing and a host of new services.

In December, the B.C. government granted Hydro an additional year to finish installing the devices.

The new meters measure electricity use for billing and send the information to B.C. Hydro wirelessly, eliminating the need for human meter readers. The devices also monitor electricity flow and can send alerts about power outages, which Hydro said will help it to restore power faster.

About 93 per cent of customers have had their meters switched, but almost 140,000 holdouts remain. In Greater Victoria, 95 per cent of customers have the meters, Hydro said.

But resisting smart meters is about to get harder. Hydro’s next wave of installers plans to ignore signs from homeowners that request the company not install smart meters, Verschoor said. Installers have also been instructed to remove bars, boxes, locks or other barricades that might prevent access to the old meter, she said.

“If we come across a barricaded meter, the barricade will be removed,” Verschoor said.

If the meter is in a house or garage, and Hydro has been given a key, installers will go inside to replace the device, she said.

The only way to stop an install is to be at home when Hydro (or a representative from subcontractor Corix Utilities) arrives. Even then, Hydro will immediately dispatch a roving customer service person to start a face-to-face conversation, Verschoor said.

“They will physically come to the door so that the customer can talk to a real person and have their questions answered,” she said.

“We find that makes a big difference.”

For now, Hydro is stopping short of physically forcing its way past protesting homeowners.

Verschoor said no decisions have been made on how to deal with people who continue, in person, to refuse Hydro access to the meter.

The new push has outraged smart meter opponents, who call it “goon tactics.”

“Basically, the reports coming in right now are Corix is showing up, they are threatening people, saying they don’t have choice, they have to take a meter, and when people turn them away, they have the B.C. Hydro people coming back shortly after,” said Jim Smith, president of StopSmartMeters.ca.

“They are coercing, they are bullying, they are literally just trampling over our democratic rights.”

Smith said he’s advising opponents to guard their meters, turn away Hydro or Corix personnel, and ask for all communication to be made in writing.

Hydro said it cannot allow old meters to remain because it would require the company to maintain two types of electricity metering and billing, which would result in increased costs to customers.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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