B.C. VIEWS: Going Gaga over smart meters

Noted physicist Lady Gaga has been invoked in a protest campaign against providing wireless Internet in schools.

VICTORIA – This summer, BC Hydro starts installing 1.8 million smart meters to eventually upgrade every electricity customer in the province.

This is controversial for several reasons. First, they’re doing it now because former premier Gordon Campbell decreed it must be done by the end of 2012. Second, the smart grid is one of several major BC Hydro projects the government exempted from having to undergo a cost-benefit review by the B.C. Utilities Commission.

And, of course, there is the budgeted cost of $930 million, coming at a time when BC Hydro is projecting rate increases approaching 50 per cent over the next five years.

When I spoke with BC Hydro smart meter project executive Fiona Taylor last week, she naturally had no comment on the politics. Smart meters are inevitable, she said, since mechanical meters are obsolete and eventually won’t be made any more.

Taylor insists the pending rate increases would be even higher without smart meters. BC Hydro estimates the wireless meters will not only pay for themselves, they will produce a net saving of $500 million over the next 20 years.

Even some BC Hydro employees were surprised to hear that, with current technology, the utility has no way of knowing your power is out until you phone them. And when line crews come out to repair a local blackout, how do they determine if the repair is complete? They drive up and down the road to see if people have lights on. If you use a backup generator, they might miss you.

Smart meters will have “last gasp, first breath” capability, storing enough energy to send a signal that reports the power has gone out, and another signal when it is restored. As it stands, a repair truck can be dispatched to a reported power failure, only to find that the customer’s main breaker has tripped.

There is another concern, which is that the brief signals emitted every few hours to send readings to a central hub are somehow a health hazard.

BC Hydro has retained former Vancouver medical health officer Dr. John Blatherwick to respond to this. He notes that smart meter signals are the equivalent of a three-minute cell phone call once per day, at a much greater distance.

These particular radio frequency signals are similar to those used for digital TV. Such signals are also emitted by the spark plugs of a car, by lightning strikes, in fact all visible light and even the infrared generated with your body heat.

But there are people who insist they have a greater sensitivity, and there will probably be some generalized hysteria and system-milking as we saw with the squabble over a power line through Tsawwassen.

The NDP is nurturing this flame of discontent as it campaigns against smart meters. It’s popular among the young, and no less an authority than Lady Gaga is the poster girl to warn against wireless Internet in schools.

NDP leadership candidate John Horgan is the party’s ranking power expert. He mainly argues that BC Hydro doesn’t need to spend all this money on smart meters right now. But he is careful not to question the tinfoil hat perspective, and risk alienating the ignorant and superstitious vote. This is a key constituency in parts of B.C.

Blatherwick notes that “if you truly are harmed by this level of radiation, you can’t live in a major city.”

I’ll say. The computer producing this column is on wireless, one of at least a dozen signals it can detect in my neighbourhood.

Our modern comfort is fragile, as Japan reminds us. It needs smart equipment, and smart people.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

Just Posted

PHOTO GALLERY: Malicious Monster Truck Tour

The Malicious Monster Truck Tour sold out to crowds of 2,500 people… Continue reading

North Coast fishing grounds key to orca recovery: DFO

Plan marks waters from Langara to Rose Spit as critical habitat for northern resident killer whales

Chris Green, mother of scouts, passes away

Green, who was born near Kitimat, spent more than 60 years volunteering with Scouts Canada

Intertidal Music Festival back for round two

More than 20 performances throughout the day at the North Pacific Cannery on July 21

Alberta man missing on Kitimat River found dead

Body found on July 11 after going missing on July 7

Here’s what you need to know about Day 1 at the BC Games

All 18 events kick off on the track, riding ring, fields, courts and lake in the Cowichan Valley

Site C dam project plagued by problems: expert

E. Harvey Elwin expresses concern about internal BC Hydro and government documents

Seal attacks kayakers in the Broughton Archipelago

“It has to be one chance in a million of this happening.”

Victoria-area park sign removed after glitch redirects to porn site

Resident looking to learn more about workout equipment discovered the problem code

Special Olympic athletes take on BC Games during special anniversary

Known as the Global Day of Inclusion, July 20 marks the first Special Olympics in 1968 in Chicago

Scammers dressed as Mounties threaten to arrest senior if she doesn’t cough up cash

Pair of fraudulent officers threaten to arrest 90-year-old woman

Fundraiser to help mom of jogger detained after crossing U.S. border

Cedella Roman, 19, was held in U.S. after accidentally crossing border in South Surrey

Okanagan Wildfires: The latest on wildfires and evacuations

A Friday morning look at the major wildfires impact the Okanagan and Similkameen.

UPDATED: 1,500 residents on evacuation alert as Peachland under state of emergency

The Mount Eneas wildfire has forced an evacuation alert of 596 properties

Most Read