Thousands refuse smart meters; installation deadline extended

B.C.’s smart-meter program is getting a deadline extension, after thousands of people refused to allow the devices to be installed at their homes.

Energy Minister Rich Coleman announced Thursday he will extend the installation deadline by a year, to Dec. 31, 2013.

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B.C. Hydro has installed 93 per cent of the meters, or 1.73 million devices. Coleman’s ministry cited equipment and labour shortages as among the problems that prevented completion of the $1-billion project.

Almost 140,000 meters have yet to be installed, mostly as the result of people asking that they not be installed, B.C. Hydro said.

“The bottom line is the province is extending the deadline for smart-meter installation to allow for more flexibility to address customer concerns,” said Cindy Verschoor, a B.C. Hydro smart-meter spokeswoman.

Hydro will try to contact worried customers to answer their questions, Verschoor said. The Crown corporation has been successful in having about 8,000 customers accept the devices who initially didn’t want them, she said.

B.C. Hydro has said the new smart meters are required as part of a modernization of the province’s electricity system, providing the ability to pinpoint power outages and allowing for more accurate measuring of power usage. The meters also don’t have to be read by a B.C. Hydro worker going from house to house. Instead, data is transmitted wirelessly.

But some people have expressed health concerns about the radio-frequency technology used by the smart meters to send information to B.C. Hydro. Others worry about fire hazards and billing problems caused by installation.

Smart-meter opponents lost a court challenge against the devices in November. Health officials have insisted the radio-frequency radiation from smart meters is emitted at safe levels.

B.C. Hydro hasn’t decided what it will do if people continue to reject smart meters beyond next year’s deadline, Verschoor said. The system can be activated to receive data without 100 per cent meter installation, she said.

NDP energy critic John Horgan said the government’s deadline extension is not surprising.

“Clearly, they’ve known for a long time that they aren’t going to meet their targets,” he said. “So burying their news between Christmas and New Years is burying their incompetence on a file that’s been mismanaged from the start.”

Horgan blamed the government’s refusal to send the smart-meter project to the B.C. Utilities Commission as the major reason for outstanding concerns by the public.

“People doubt the value of the meters, they doubt the safety of the meters and that doubt is leading to a provincial program that in the eyes of many is illegitimate,” Horgan said.

He said an NDP government would send the project back for review to the Utilities Commission, which is an independent regulator, and explore opt-out provisions for unhappy customers.

B.C. Hydro said the project will remain within its budget, despite the year-long extension.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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