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Fortis gets approved for Smart Meters — but with a catch

Residents may want to take the locks off their meters now that the BC Utilities Commission has ruled on FortisBC application.

By Suzy Hamilton, The Nelson Daily

The BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) approved Fortis BC’s application to install 115,000 Smart Meters (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) in its coverage area after a two week public hearing in March in Kelowna.

But there’s a catch. The Commission said that Fortis BC has until August 1 to agree to apply for an opt out clause that would be finalized by November 1.

And that has RDCK Area D director Andy Shadrack claiming a victory for consumer choice.

“If they don’t agree, they don’t get the approval,” said Shadrack from his Kaslo home. Shadrack admitted he hadn’t read the entire 200-page document, which was released July 23 to Fortis and the interveners.

“My purpose in intervening in the hearings was twofold, “ he said. “I argued that people couldn’t be compelled to accept a technology that they didn’t trust and that people who had health issues shouldn’t be forced to accept this. This now means we can have a discussion about an opt out.”

Recently BC Hydro, who has already installed millions of Smart Meters province-wide, backed down on their no opt out position and now say that customers, for a fee yet to be disclosed, can have an old style meter that needs a meter reader to come to their home to determine how much power they have used.

The Smart Meter determines digitally through use of wireless technology how much electricity a customer has used in a time period.

Shadrack argued at the Fortis hearing that there should be no cost to customers who have health issues with low-level radiation from wireless Smart Meters.

Opponents of Smart Meters said the cumulative effects of low-level radiation can increase damage to the nervous system, cause electro-sensitivity, have adverse reproductive effects and a variety of other effects on different organ systems.

“The question then is, at what level of exposure to something that is known to have an adverse effect do we allow exposures?” Shadrack asked at the March hearing.

But Fortis has not agreed to the opt out yet.

“The BCUC’s decision is lengthy and we have a responsibility to our customers to properly review it before making a commitment to moving forward with the project,” said Fortis corporate communications officer Neal Pobran.

“We believe advanced meters are an accurate, reliable and safe way to deliver energy. Advanced meters will provide a range of benefits to our customers, including economic benefits and safety improvements for utility workers, first responders and the general public. Our focus is to deliver energy safely and reliably at the lowest reasonable cost.” 

At the hearing, Fortis BC said opting out wasn’t an option. “We will see the most economic benefits in the project from not having an opt out. This provides savings for the customers,” said Pobran in March.

But after the recent BCUC decision, Pobran said: “If Fortis BC elects to proceed, we will work with customers to address concerns they may have, and will provide options for them.”

 Fortis BC expects to make its decision on the advanced metering project within the next month. 

 Gas customers are not affected by this decision, and would not receive advanced meters as part of this project Pobran said. 

Fortis BC’s coverage area spans roughly from the Okanagan Valley to Princeton, east to Creston, including the Slocan Valley, Kaslo and Argenta.

The hearings were designed to give government, organizations and individuals a chance to bring forward their concerns to the Utilities Commission through submissions and cross-examination of Fortis’ experts.

It was the first hearing into the risks of Smart Meters since the provincial government waived the requirement to hold hearings for BC Hydro’s Smart Meter program. BC Hydro has installed nearly two million meters around the province, and Smart Meter installations are nearly complete.