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Hydro talk on smart meters 'too late' says Port Moody council

A BC Hydro presentation on smart meters came far too late for many Port Moody and Port Coquitlam councillors, who said the information would have proved helpful when the technology was first introduced.

A BC Hydro presentation on smart meters came far too late for many Port Moody and Port Coquitlam councillors, who said the information would have proved helpful when the technology was first introduced.

"The scary part is how this was put upon the public without educating the public," said PoMo Coun. Bob Elliott. "As a retired employee of BC Hydro, it's a little embarrassing."

Coun. Rosemary Small, who initiated a motion opposing smart meters and asking BC Hydro to offer customers an opt-out option at no expense, had several questions ready for Hydro communications manager Cindy Verschoor at Tuesday's Port Moody council meeting, starting with the health concerns.

"The meter transmits for less than a minute a day," Verschoor said, using a 900-megahertz radio signal with a power of one watt; data is transmitted to a collector three times a day, which then sends the data to BC Hydro, also at 900 megahertz and one watt.

"This building has an active Wi-Fi network," Verschoor said of PoMo city hall. "So, by comparison, four minutes in this building is worth one year of a smart meter."

She added: "And if you stood next to [a smart meter] for 20 years without moving, at 20 cm away, it's the equivalent of a 30-minute cell phone call or less."

BC Hydro's smart meters have been tested extensively and repeatedly by an independent engineering company and found to be an extremely low-impact technology, Verschoor said, noting the engineers' signed reports are available on the Hydro website for inspection.

She also reassured Small regarding her concerns on the potential for time-of-use billing, which has been implemented in Ontario.

Because B.C. operates on 93% hydroelectric power, she told the councillor, the system can regulate the flow of water to meet consumers' needs, making time-of-use billing unnecessary.

BC Hydro is replacing the old technology with smart meters as part of a comprehensive infrastructure upgrade, Verschoor said, noting the system hasn't been upgraded in decades and no longer supports the needs of consumers or the expected 50% increase in demand over the next 20 years.

The meters are expected to reduce hydro rates, improve safety and help get the lights back on faster in case of an outage.

Customers will be able to see their usage by logging on to their BC Hydro account online, with the aim of encouraging people to conserve energy.

"We don't collect data about what you were doing or what you were using the electricity for; the technology is simply not capable of that," Verschoor said, adding customers who can monitor their usage tend to save up to 15%.

The system upgrades will also allow for a two-way transfer of electricity on the grid for solar panels and electric vehicles.

The $930-million program will create $1.6 billion in savings over the next 20 years. With maintenance costs factored in, Verschoor said, $520 million will be saved.

Over-billing issues have largely proved false, Verschoor said. Each complaint is investigated and to date, six bills have been adjusted due to a smart meter - four down and two up. The main issue, she added, is that customers often mistakenly compare bills between winter and summer, when usage is far lower. Examining bills from similar seasons year to year shows the post-smart meter bills are accurate, Verschoor said.

Residents who don't want a smart meter installed are asked to contact BC Hydro to discuss their concerns. "We have been very successful in addressing consumers' concerns to date," Verschoor said, noting no decisions have been made in relation to customers who refuse the new meters.

"The cost of maintaining a dual system would have to be borne by all ratepayers," Verschoor said. "It would be like your constituents wanting to opt out of the water or sewer system. You'd have to find a way to address those that aren't on the system, and there's a cost to that."

BC Hydro has installed 1.4 million smart meters and will be replacing meters in the Tri-Cities until the fall.

Verschoor received similar questions when she made her presentation to Port Coquitlam council during its meeting Monday.

BC Hydro has begun installing the smart meters in Port Coquitlam in recent weeks and Verschoor said about 10% of the work has so far been completed.

Coun. Darrell Penner was one of several councillors who said BC Hydro should have been more forthcoming with the information at the beginning of the process.

"This would have been really much more helpful if you guys had made presentation a long time ago," he said. "But you are doing it now, so thank you."

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- with files from Gary McKenna