Editorial: Site C damage is not theoretical

Let the smart-meter issue recede into the background — there are bigger B.C. Hydro fish to fry, and the biggest of all is the Site C dam. A judge has refused to certify a class-action lawsuit against B.C. Hydro over the installation of smart meters, saying the proposed lawsuit failed to prove there was enough evidence to support the action.

The lawsuit was launched by Nomi Davis of Salt Spring Island, who said she began to get headaches and joint pain after a smart meter was installed at her home against her wishes. Other B.C. Hydro customers worried about the effects of emissions joined the lawsuit, which claimed the meters infringed on their right to life, liberty and security.

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“There is no admissible evidence that these issues could be resolved on a class-wide basis,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elaine Adair said in a 36-page decision released Wednesday.

B.C. Hydro began installing smart meters in 2011, replacing analog meters that required periodic visits from meter readers. The new meters can transmit power consumption and other data wirelessly and as needed. The $1-billion smart-meter rollout was completed in a couple of years, except for about 60,000 customers who objected to the new meters for various reasons, including possible health problems. They were eventually offered the option of keeping the old meters and paying a reading fee.

The link between smart meters and health issues is tenuous, at best.

In 2011, Mary McBride, a scientist with the B.C. Cancer Agency, issued a statement that said despite the exponential increase in exposure to radio-frequency radiation from cellphones, extensive research showed no link between cellphones and problems such as brain tumours. Smart meters, she said, emit RF radiation at a level several times lower than that of cellphones and transmit only intermittently, an average of a minute per day.

That doesn’t mean the possibility of harmful effects from cellphones, Wi-Fi and other sources of radio-frequency radiation should be dismissed entirely — monitoring and research should continue — but the harm from smart meters, at this point, is theoretical.

There’s nothing theoretical about the harm that could result from the Site C dam, though.

The estimated construction cost is $8.8 billion, the biggest outlay of public funds in B.C.’s history. And does anyone believe that cost won’t go higher? Projects of this scope seldom stay within the budget.

The dam is expected to lose $800 million in its first four years of production, because it will generate more power than the province needs at three times the market rate, so the electricity will be have to be sold at a huge loss.

At a time when climate change and other factors raise concerns about our food supply, the dam will flood 107 kilometres of the Peace River and take 13,000 hectares of agricultural land out of production. It will irreversibly alter ecosystems and wildlife habitat. The project has serious ramifications for First Nations’ rights and territories.

A joint federal-provincial panel appointed to review the Site C dam said it didn’t have the time or resources to properly analyze project costs and couldn’t determine if the dam is needed. It recommended that the project be reviewed by the B.C. Utilities Commission.

The B.C. Liberal government has decided to go ahead with the project without further review, despite the recommendations of its own expert panel, a decision the head of the panel called “a dereliction of duty.”

It’s theoretically possible harm might come from smart meters. The harm that will result from the Site C dam is stark reality.

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