An application by FortisBC to replace 115,000 manually read meters with wireless smart meters in the West Kootenay and the Okanagan has local interveners questioning the company’s motives.
Two local interveners have asked the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) to suspend the proceedings until FortisBC has done all their research and included a wired in option in their business plan.
Kaslo resident and Regional District Central Kootenay Area D director, Andy Shadrack and Michael Jessen, the energy critic for Green Party BC in Nelson/Creston, have been advocating for more research into the smart meters, which they argue will not save the money FortisBC claims, have potential health concerns and infringe on citizens’ basic rights over their properties.
“Andy (Shadrack) and I have asked the commission to suspend the proceedings until FortisBC has come up with a strong business case for wired meters, not just wireless, and then make an informed decision,” Jessen said during an interview with The Nelson Daily.
“I’m quite concerned about the process FortisBC is using to implement these meters, much the same as BCHydro has done – none of these utilities are being honest with the public.”
FortisBC made the application to the BCUC in July 2012.
“I’m concerned that we’re not getting ourselves in to giving (FortisBC) the right to put things on peoples’ property that they don’t want,” said Shadrack.
“There is a way for people to opt out of the wireless meter and still give Fortis the data they want,” he continued, referring to online ways of reading your meter and then sending that data to Fortis or by having a wired in meter that does the same thing as the wireless meter.
“We felt we could introduce some different perspectives to this process that would illuminate what they are trying to do and how to find a way to do it better – I think most of us would agree that we take electricity for granted,” said Jessen.
Neil Pobran, FortisBC smart meter spokesperson based in Kelowna, said FortisBC did look at the wired versions, but chose to go for the wireless in their application with BCUC because it had the most cost savings for customers, provide more timely billing information and will help customers conserve energy more efficiently.
“The most savings to customers happen if all the customers have them,” said Pobran of having an option not to participate.
“The new meters help us get a better scope on the system,” he said.
A smart meter, or Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), is an electrical meter that records the consumption of electrical energy in one hour intervals or less and then communicates back to the utility provided using pulsed radiofrequency (RF) radiation emitted by the meter. FortisBC argues that the meters will save the company millions of dollars in installation fees, report power outages quickly so they can respond in a more timely fashion and allow customers to monitor their own energy consumption more accurately to allow them to save money.
The information is used for monitoring usage and for billing purposes, but Jessen fears it will open up an opportunity for the utility to make more money off of customers during peak consumption times.
“I don’t doubt it will be implemented,” said Jessen.
“It’s just a question of what kind (of meter). And when we all get them we’ll see our electricity rates go up very, very high.”
Jessen said the province is already running at an energy deficit. And when, during peak times, the load is too high for them to keep up with they buy their electricity from other provinces on the open market.
“(With smart meters) FortisBC will change their rates by the hour based on demand," said Jessen adding we’ll see rates climb from eight cents a kilowatt hour to 20 or 30 cents a kilowatt hour during peak times like during a cold snap or at certain times of the day, like first thing in the morning when you plug in your coffee pot.
"We’re going to get charged a very high amount to use electricity during the peak times. This will create a behavioral change that we’re just not being set up for.”
“We are not currently looking at that right now,” said Pobran of an increase in rates. “It could be in the future but we have to apply (for rate increases) through BCUC.”
“By not being honest about the energy crunch that exists, FortisBC is not educating the public about what the problem is,” said Jessen.
Shadrack says the cost savings for FortisBC just isn’t there.
According to him the capital cost to install each meter is $430 whereas the cost of installing wired meters, at least for FortisAlberta and Idaho Power, was between $268 and $142 a meter respectively.
Pobran said the savings are there in the amount of energy consumed and in the elimination of traveling meter readers.
As for the radiation concerns, neither Shadrack nor Jessen have any data to counter smart meters, but feel everyone has a right to refuse the installation of the meters.
“I haven’t got a clue whether these meters are safe or not,” said Shadrack. “In the Charter of Rights and Freedoms it states we are free to associate. If we don’t want to associate with smart meters, then do I have to? In the charter it states I deserve to have my life protected. If smart meters endanger my life, do I have to have it anyway?”
Pobran said FortisBC had an independent study done on the possible health concerns associated with smart meters and found that they gave off lower radiation than most common household appliances like cell phones, wifi and baby monitors.
“We found (smart meters) have 340 times less (radiation) than a baby monitor gives off,” said Pobran, adding a complete report about the health concerns can be found online at www.fortisbc.com.
Jessen admits the meters would have two benefits, earlier detection of power outages and an awareness by the consumer of how much electricity they are wasting.
“It is an environmental benefit to use less electricity,” he said. “We often get the extra power we need from coal-fired plants in Alberta which put more carbon dioxide in the air, making it a dirty supply. We want to reduce the extra power we buy from plants like that.”
Jessen said metering doesn’t have to help curb our energy appetite, but rather education.
“My research indicates we are wasting, on average, 87 per cent of the electricity we use. The utility companies aren’t being honest about how much we are wasting.”
Pobran said by eliminating the mobile meter reading, the company saves 500,000 kilometers of driving a year and 80,000 litres of gas.
Customers will also be able to take the energy they may be collecting themselves through solar panels or wind generators to sell back to the utility, which can be monitored through the smart meter, he said.
So far, the BCUC has not granted the request by Shadrack and Jessen to suspend the application.
However, the process is a long one and they likely won’t get a response until the next BCUC meetings December 14 or even into January 2013.
After gathering public input, the commission will convene in March 2013 to hear witnesses at a courtroom like hearing before making a final decision by next summer.
To see more information about the FortisBC application visit:
http://www.fortisbc.com/About/ProjectsPlanning/ElecUtility/ProjectsInYourCommunity/AdvancedMeteringInfrastructure/Pages/default.aspx or to see the application itself go to http://www.bcuc.com/ApplicationView.aspx?ApplicationId=359.
To view Shadrack’s submission to the BCUC visit http://www.bcuc.com/ApplicationView.aspx?ApplicationId=359.
If approved, FortisBC hopes to start the smart meter implementation in 2014 and be done by 2015 in our region. If implemented, customers will not be able to opt out of the meter replacement but they also won’t have to pay for it.