B.C. Liberals were clarifying their position on smart meters Wednesday after some in their ranks said residents would not be forced to have the devices installed in their homes.
Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Kevin Krueger said the effort to install smart meters in every house in the province will continue, but those who adamantly refuse will keep their old meter and be charged the cost of having someone read it.
"We always have people who think everything's bad for them. People thought fluoride was bad and now we have kids with rotting teeth," he said Wednesday.
"I'm surprised they don't walk around with tinfoil hats. . . . I'll get more radiation from this phone call than they would get from a smart meter in a week."
Earlier this week, Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg sent out a statement that he had been advised by Energy, Mines and Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman that homeowners who did not yet have a smart meter installed would not be forced to take one.
That seemed to be a reversal of the government's and B.C. Hydro's adamant stand that the meters had to be installed provincewide without exception.
Krueger didn't know what the cost of having a meter read would be, but said it shouldn't be subsidized by those who have the smart meters.
He wasn't sure what will happen with people who have reluctantly taken smart meters but might want to go back to the old meters.
Those people won't be able to go back, as the old meters are being recycled and the system has to work like a grid, said Greg Alexis, spokesman for B.C. Hydro's smart metering program.
"We think it's important to take some extra time to work with customers who still have concerns with getting a new meter. In the meantime, we will not install a new meter for these customers unless we have their permission," he said in an emailed response.
"We're finding we have more positive conversations with people when we're able to talk to them individually and answer their questions. Of the customers who initially declined a new meter, more than 9,000 changed their minds and agreed to installation after we spoke to them.
"We also can't remove a smart meter once it has been installed because they are now standard operating equipment (like utility poles and power lines). Also, the old meters are being recycled and are no longer available."
Krueger said he's read stories about people who have suffered genuine health effects from the meters and he doesn't feel they should be forced.
"There are people with really unique health conditions. I've seen testimonials from people who say they only started with the smart meters. I don't want to have smart meters anywhere near them."
NDP energy critic John Horgan issued a statement saying the Liberal government's stand on smart meters needed clarification. On the one hand, customers were getting letters from B.C. Hydro threatening them if they don't take the new devices, while on the other, Coleman is sending out an opinion piece saying they won't go in without permission.
Coleman was not available for comment Wednesday but one of his staff forwarded the minister's op-ed article from Jan. 22 that said new meters would not be installed without the homeowner's consent.
Hogg is no longer speaking to the media on the smart meter issue, communications officer Gabrielle Price said.
Hearing she won't be forced to take a smart meter made Kamloops environmentalist and great-grandmother Ruth Madsen happy.
She has also chosen not to take one of the City's radio-frequency water meters — instead, she'll pay to have it read twice a year. She welcomed the idea that she could do the same with her old B.C. Hydro meter, especially since she has two grand-nieces living with her.
"I have a little five year old in the bedroom where these smart meters would go," she said.
Madsen went to several of the meetings led by smart meter opponents, and she knows people who have suffered health problems from the devices.
"I just felt there was no way I could take that chance," she said.
The health of family and community has always been important to her, she said.
With two smart meter efforts appearing to be defeated, Madsen might focus on a third one soon.
"Now the gas company is putting in new meters. I have to find out what kind of meter they're putting in."