MLA REPORT: Get smart

MLA defends the decision to install smart meters in the province

When any issue reaches the front page, by definition there’s a lot of information out there. Unfortunately, in some cases, there’s a lot of misinformation, too.

That’s exactly what’s happened with smart meters. You’ve no doubt heard a lot about B.C. Hydro’s plans to gradually replace the old analog meters with new modern meters.

Some are in favour, some opposed – but I think most of those who object at least have reasonable questions. Unfortunately, some people have gone way past reasonable, preying on people’s worst fears and in some cases, insulting people’s intelligence.

If that sounds too harsh, the Interior Smart Meter Awareness chairperson was quoted in the Merritt Herald saying “they can monitor your heart rate when you are inside the cloud of your house,” and that “they have actually found ways to pull your pin number directly out of your head.” Quite simply, that’s nonsense.

Let me first address some of the more reasonable questions I have heard. First, contrary to what some people have claimed, smart meters are reliable. Their accuracy is overseen by Measurement Canada, a federal consumer protection agency.

As of August 20, B.C. Hydro had installed more than 1.5 million smart meters with very few problems. In fact, there have been less than one-tenth of one per cent of meters that have had a problem of any kind. As with the installation of any new electronic equipment, there will be a very small number of units that don’t work properly – this was true of the older meters and would be true of the new meters as well.

As with any operation of that size, there have been some errors.  For example, B.C. Hydro has removed approximately 1,000 smart meters for testing, true. But what you may not know is that every year, Hydro performs field tests on about 40,000 analog meters.

Second, some people have said B.C. Hydro is paying too much for their smart meters. Again, not true. Utilities in Ontario and Quebec also paid about $200 per meter, but B.C. Hydro’s program is more ambitious.

B.C. Hydro is upgrading our entire electricity system including the telecommunications infrastructure, adding system meters to better manage the flow of electricity, and provide feedback tools for customers to save energy and money.

Finally, smart meters are safe. Some people have pointed out they haven’t been approved by the Canadian Safety Association – but the CSA certifies consumer products, not products owned, operated, and managed by public utilities. The new smart meters are fully compliant with the most stringent requirements of the American National Standards Institute, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and International Electrotechnical Commission.

Hopefully that sheds some light on some misinformation – and if you’d like to know why B.C. Hydro is moving towards smart meters, the answer couldn’t be simpler: to save more money and make the grid more reliable.

Let me briefly expand on both points.

First, to save money. Upgrading our electrical metering system and grid will deliver $1.6 billion in savings to British Columbians over the next 20 years and help keep our rates among the lowest in North America. Second, smart meters will make B.C.’s electrical grid more reliable. The provincial electricity system hasn’t changed since the 1950s.

Consider that a smart grid will allow B.C. Hydro to detect power outages in real time, and respond accordingly. This cannot be done with the current grid. It really is that simple.