Tuesday July 29, 2014





Column: Power to the people

Are pressure tactics and absolutes the best way to get people to go along with new meters? And does there need to be 100 per cent buy-in for smart meters?
Murray Mitchell

Wendy Johnson shows a sign she posted below a new Hydro meter on her home.

The meter is running, ticking down to the May provincial election.

Cynics — and the NDP — might suggest that’s why the Liberals are softening their stand from insisting every single household has to have a B.C. Hydro smart meter to saying no one will get one against their will.

But the Crown corporation will continue to work to convince them they should accept one.

Assurances aren’t sitting well with some meter opponents, including one Kamloops woman who says a smart meter was installed at her home against her wishes.

Wendy Johnson said Thursday she got her first set of hearing aids in September. A month later, the City put in her radio-frequency water meter, which she didn’t want. She said she was told by the installer she had no choice.

After that, Johnson put a sign up on her hydro meter saying no to a smart meter. An installer stopped by her home a year ago, saw it, and left.

On Monday — after Liberals Rich Coleman and Gordon Hogg said meter opponents won’t be required to take the devices — a Corix employee showed up at Johnson’s Oak Hills home and insisted smart meters are being ordered for all B.C. homes.

“He said ‘Ma’am, we’ve been ordered to put meters on every house.’ He turned around and put on the meter,” Johnson said.

As a child, she suffered lead poisoning and has been allergic to metals since. After the meters were installed, Johnson, 72, has been getting headaches, her voice rasps and her hearing aids get static and fuzzy.

She’s taken them back three times to be recalibrated, but they still don’t work well when she’s home. For relief, she goes to her back porch, away from the meters. She’s moved her TV there.

If meters aren’t causing her health problems, she’d like to know what is. It clears up when she’s out of her house.

“I need answers and I have no idea where to go or what to do,” she said.

She’s not alone. Judy Nelson’s heart begins racing and her pulse pounds when she’s near a smart meter.

So far, she’s kept them out of her home. But one neighbour now has new meters and she said at times, she can feel the effects.

She sent B.C. Hydro a registered letter refusing the meter and put up a sign by her old one. That kept the installers away until Wednesday, when a young man arrived to put one in.

They discussed the meters for half an hour, but Johnson wasn’t swayed. The installer suggested the effort to change her mind would continue.

“He said he could come back today. They’ll be back and back and back until they convince us. He said these meters have to go in,” she said.

Besides her health problems, Johnson is worried about fires. She’s heard stories about blazes breaking out near smart meters.

She’s willing to pay to have her meter read. But she wishes there was one consistent message from B.C. Hydro and Victoria so she’d know whether she has to continue to watch for installers.

“I’ve been through a year and a half of wondering. I was home all the month of January in fear they’d be here.”

Living in fear of someone putting a device into your home that you absolutely do not want seems unthinkable in this day and age.

Yes, most of us move along with technological change. But is it required? Some people still admire the Amish or think they’re quaint.

Yes, it costs more to have someone go around to the ‘rebellious’ households to read their meters. Yes, there might be others who want their meters removed because they felt they had no choice.

Isn’t that what our free society is about? If someone feels their health is at stake or wants to wear a tinfoil hat, why not? Who are we to judge or force a meter into their home and sanctuary?

Greg Alexis, B.C. Hydro’s senior media relations advisor, sent me an emailed response to phone message questions I left him about people being able to opt out and whether they will continue to be asked to take a meter.

His response: “B.C. Hydro is continuing to work with customers and will not install a new meter unless we have the customer’s permission. If a customer has concerns about their installation experience we encourage them to contact us directly at 1-800-224-9376.”

He didn’t state whether installers would stop bothering those who refuse meters and didn’t reply when I emailed him back asking that question again.

Trudy Frisk has refused the new meters. She said the City didn’t offer options when water meters came around, but she finally found out she could have a wired model installed in a pit in front of her house — for a price.

She hoped to take assurance about the hydro meters from Liberals like Rich Coleman and Gordon Hogg who have said recently that smart meters won’t be forced on anyone. She’s not confident that’s a guarantee.

“I would be so happy if I could believe this was true and not a PR gesture. But there doesn’t seem to be any consistent message from the government,” she said.

Her concern is health impacts, billing rates being varied throughout the day, security of information and allegations of fires.

“The old meters didn’t have the associated problems with the smart meters. There was no physical necessity to do this. And many people objected to the — one person said it this way — jackbooted way it’s being forced on the population of British Columbia.”


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