Smart Meters

Letter to Premier Clark from a friend of ours regarding SMART METERS.
Written by Steve Satow on August 3rd, 2011


Dear Premier Clark and Mr. Coleman,

I am writing to you to express my serious concerns about the on-going installation of the so-called ‘Smart Meters’ by BC Hydro. I request that you do whatever is within your power both as official representatives of the citizens of BC and, hopefully, as concerned citizen to over-turn this misguided program.

I suspect that you may already be aware of the numerous reasons for challenging this program, but I would like to take a moment of your time to present my particular concerns:

1) Cost.

BC Hydro estimates that the installation will cost $930 Million. This equates to about $500 per household in BC. They claim that this money will be recovered within 10 year through savings, increased efficiency and a decrease in theft which, by their own estimates, amount to $100 million annually. This is highly questionable as their figures for theft have somehow risen from $12 million in 2004. Regardless of whether their estimates are realistic, the new smart meters can only detect theft that occurs at the meter (which only accounts for about 4% of total theft) according to a report by the Ontario Energy Board.

I quote:

“Theft of power may be detected more easily if it involves meter tampering.
However, theft accomplished by tapping conductors before they reach the meter would
not be detected by smart metering.” 
 Ontario Energy Boards “Smart Meter Initiative” Working Group.

Furthermore, these costs will be born by BC tax-payers or passed on to users through higher bills without generating any significant advantages for the user.

BC Hydro claim that power outages will be reported more quickly and accurately through automated reporting by the meters. But, in reality, this will not translate into problems being fixed any quicker than if users call in shortly after they discover an outage, since it is still dependant on the crew being dispatched based on workload or other considerations.

2) Loss of Jobs.

The majority of meter-readers are likely to be made redundant, since their service is no longer required. BC Hydro claims that they will be replaced by an undisclosed number of “technology-based” positions necessary to administer the metering program, but I strongly suspect that the number of new positions will be small compared to those lost.

Apart from the trauma caused by loss of employment, these redundancies will put an added strain on the BC welfare system. Furthermore, the loss of these jobs will make it harder to detect theft, since there will be even fewer on-site visits.

3) Economic justification.

BC Hydro claim that the new meters will help them to achieve significant reductions in power usage over the new decade, as mandated by the BC Clean Energy Act. They maintain that the meters will encourage people to implement reductions by becoming more aware of their usage. This has been clearly demonstrated as unrealistic, not only by the experience with the current two-tier tariff in BC, but also by studies in a number of other parts of the world where smart meters have been installed.

Ontario’s Premier McGuinty has stated that the program’s expenses would not be recovered through the program itself. This is mirrored by the experiences in Connecticut and Maryland.

It has been clearly shown that these meters will not achieve the results that BC Hydro is claiming, namely to lower our electricity usage in order to relieve pressure on our aging generation and transmission infrastructure.

On top of this, it is estimated that 20 – 30% of the losses incurred by power companies are during long-distance transmission. If BC Hydro is serious about lowering peak and future loads on the system, it would make far more sense to invest in local renewable generation through incentives such as those implemented under Ontario’s MicroFIT program. This would have the other significant advantage of creating new jobs within the province.

One option might be to install renewable systems for customers, retain ownership of the systems and charge a fee for the energy generated as has been done successfully in other parts of North America.

4) Health.

The new ‘Smart meters’ will expose our homes and offices to almost continuous Electromagnetic Field radiation (EMF).

There is a growing, and very credible, body of scientific evidence to show that exposure to short and long-term EMF is hazardous to our health and wellbeing (as well as all living organisms including bees) and the World Health Organization (WHO) very recently classified it as a class 2b Carcinogen alongside DDT, Lead and car exhaust fumes. Would you allow any of those into your home on a voluntary basis?

BC Hydro claims that the ‘average’ emissions of the smart meters fall below the levels set by Health Canada but this is both untrue and subject to serious question.

BC Hydro deliberately uses the term ‘average’ because they know that the actual power of the individual transmissions is well above the 600 (for 900 MHz) or 1000 (for 2.4 GHz) microWatts per cm2 (uW) safety level set by Health Canada under Safety Code 6. Studies have shown that the transmission strength can and does exceed 4000 uW but by calling it an average, they are taking into account all the time when the meters are not transmitting. This is a highly spurious attempt to mislead the public.

Furthermore, the meters act as a grid, communicating with each other regularly throughout the day. This can increase the density of EMF emanating from the meters by orders of magnitude.

In addition, there is very sound evidence to show that the Health Canada limits are far higher than is actually safe. Medical studies in several parts of the world have shown quantifiable biological effects at exposures to 2 uW and below.

One of the reasons why Health Canada’s limit is so high is because it is based on the tests done by the US Military on large, fit, adult male subjects (hardly representative of the general population). These early studies were the first attempts to understand the effects of EMF and consequently were based on the very dubious assumption that EMF was only harmful once it was strong enough to raise core body temperature by 1 degree. The conclusion from those studies was that 10,000 uW was the safe limit.

Since then scientists all over the world have proven this to be dangerously high and the limits have been significantly lowered. Although Canada’s limits – at 600/1000 uW – are much lower than those of the original studies, they are still unacceptably high and far out of line with levels set by other countries.

5) Privacy and Security.

There are serious concerns about the security and privacy of the data transmission and storage related to these new meters. These concerns are currently being investigated by the Privacy Commissioner for BC, Elizabeth Denham.

In addition, these same meters being installed in various US states have the capability of communicating with other so-called ‘smart’ appliances within our homes, thereby monitoring our lives on an almost real-time continual basis and generating even higher levels of EMF pollution.

6) Lack of Choice or Consent.

Setting aside the fact that this whole program is based on highly spurious claims as to its benefits, safety and effectiveness, the manufacturer of the meters that BC Hydro are buying (Itron) produce the same ‘smart meter’ in a version that is capable of communicating via wires or cable as well as wirelessly.

BC Hydro has stated that, due to the geography of the province, using wired systems would be too difficult or expensive though I have yet to see evidence of why this is so, since virtually every house in the province is connected to a telephone line and/or cable capable of transmitting the necessary data.

The Clean Energy Act, 2010 also gives BC Hydro and its agents authority to install these meter ‘without consent’ of the homeowners. I regard this as a gross infringement of my civil rights as a Canadian citizen.

Furthermore, BC Hydro has failed to engage the public in the process of deciding whether to implement this program and it has been exempt from oversight by the BC Utilities Commission, a fact that raises considerable concern among many people, including myself.

7) Higher Electricity Bills.

The evidence in numerous parts of the world is that the installation of these new meters has caused higher bills for many users without any increase in their usage. In part this will result from the transition from our current two-tier system whereby we pay less for the first few hundred kilowatts, regardless of when we use that power, to a system where we will pay a high rate for all electricity used during the day.

Also, there is justifiable concern that these wireless meters may be susceptible to errors resulting in false billing due to erratic power fluctuations. A class-action law-suit has been initiated against GP&E in the US by a large group of people who have seen their electricity bills double or triple after the installation of the meters.

While I acknowledge that we pay a very low price for our electricity in BC – and arguably should pay more – higher bills should not be based merely on the ill-conceived installation of new meters.

In conclusion, I thank you for taking the time to read this message and hope that you will seriously consider revoking this program.

7 responses to “Smart Meters

  1. Very well said … let’s hope they read it!

  2. MUST-SEE 4-minute youtube video on Smart meters:

  3. Left me touch on the point you made about accuracy.

    I am an electricity broker in Texas, with thousands of clients — both commercial and residential.

    One of my commercial clients had his analog meter replaced earlier this year with a new “smart” meter. The first few months went by without issue, but then suddenly his monthly usage jumped from an average of 5,500kwh to over 88,000kwh. The company that manages the new new smart meter, Oncor, came out and verified the reading and tested the meter. The testing showed the meter to be correct over 99% of the time. Because of this visit and testing, Oncor said the reading was correct.

    Oncor was oblivious to the fact that it was practically impossible that a small office location of this size could use 88,000kwh in a single month. It’s more than their highest annual usage!

    Because Oncor is a monopoly in this part of Texas (DFW area), their service department has no incentive to try to right an obvious wrong. After several weeks of getting nowhere, I began to call the local TV stations, and that finally got Oncor’s attention. The meter has now been replaced by another “smart” meter, and the client’s usage for the month in question is being set to equal the previous year’s usage for that month.

    They said that although the meter is correct over 99% of the time, this meter evidently had some technical issues that caused the readings to jump dramatically.

    Luckily, this error was obvious — at least to everyone except Oncor’s service department. What happens to those electricity users that have meters that cause the readings to jump in small increments? They are still paying for more electricity than they are using, but they have no way to prove it and no one that will listen to them.

    I find this discussion about smart meters to be very interesting. From a biological perspective the potential impacts could be big…but Smart Meters are just one piece of a much bigger issue. Personally I Don’t want a smart meter…but then I don’t have a cell phone, microwave, hairdryer, TV, desktop computer, cordless phone, or AC running by my head when I sleep either.
    Proof that energy conservation is good for you and the planet…and maybe even the birds and the bees.

  5. Comment from a friend Brian…
    “I think the way in which the smart meter program is being implemented is what’s causing most of the backlash. It mirrors the HST in many ways. Public consultation has been terrible, and people do get upset when their government decrees that something will be installed into their home, for better or worse.

    Having said that, I find it interesting that so many people are up in arms over new meters but few are saying anything about Site-C. A new meter on my wall is a betrayal of the public’s trust but wiping out 5400 hectares of farmland? No biggie.

    After speaking to people in the anti-smart meter crowd it is obvious that there is a major knowledge deficit regarding the short comings of our existing electricity grid. Our current grid is wholly incapable of providing significant amounts of electricity from renewable sources. It was designed around big central plants and continuous growth in consumption. If we are serious about having a society that is powered by the sun then we need a decentralized grid (many networked ‘micro-grids’) with effective demand response. This is where smart meters come in.

    There are definitely concerns about privacy that must be addressed, and if need be they can be wired should the public not accept wireless meters. It would also be prudent to begin by only installing new meters in commercial and industrial facilities. Leave the existing meters in homes until the public’s concerns have been properly addressed.

    As I said initially; the way in which the government is implementing this is awful. It speaks to the heavy-handed authoritarian nature of governments the world over these days. But, real-time measurement of electricity consumption is essential if a renewable future is going to blossom into reality. Our current grid and its meters are not up to the challenge. It is time we recognize that fact.”

  6. Excellent thought provoking comments Brian. I am also troubled by the lack of public debate on Site C. If people conserved energy they would reduce their exposure to electrical pollution (EMR, wifi, etc) as well as eliminate the need for ever increasing amounts of energy at the planets cost. The singular focus on the smart meters misses the bigger picture. I think it’s human nature for people to focus on their individual family…and face it most people will not be directly impacted in their homes by the flooding 5400ha of farmland. I do understand the argument about the benefits of a smart grid…but for me this is a technological short term fix that doesn’t address the underlying problems…Unsustainable consumption of the earth’s finite resources.

  7. Comment from Brian. “The singular focus on smart meters certainly does miss the big picture. It is human nature to focus on that which is closer to home rather than far away, which explains Site-C. Although people who live on the Peace River are quite upset about it, no surprise.

    Regarding the smart (I hate the word) grid; it seems like more of a long-term solution to me. As I said before, our current grid can only handle modest amounts of electricity from renewable sources; mainly due to their varying output. If we don’t change it, we will be stuck with big central power plants forever.

    We both agree that energy conservation is the most important element but regardless of how efficient we become, we will still need some form of energy supply. If that source is going to be distributed renewables then we need a vastly different electricity grid than what we have now.

    The grid that I envision would be of a distributed nature as well. It would be many inter-connected micro-grids mostly at the community or even neighbourhood scale. Human communities would generate most of their own electricity and monitor consumption to ensure they didn’t exceed their “electrical carrying capacity”. This could probably be done mostly by local businesses and regulated by the local government. This would make much of the political tension we’re seeing now impossible by design.”

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