Opponents of BC Hydro smart meters were out in force both inside and outside the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention Tuesday.
Mayors and councillors, many of them from Vancouver Island, questioned wireless radiation health risks, privacy concerns and the ultimate costs of the meters at a convention forum.
They heard assurances from Hydro officials and health officers that the meters are safe and won’t steal personal information.
Surrey’s deputy fire chief told delegates the meters could actually make cities safer by giving advance warning that a transformer is getting dangerously hot before it sparks a fire.
The devices are supposed to detect power outages faster, catch electricity-stealing pot growers and encourage users to be more efficient.
Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto said her council heard from hundreds of concerned residents before proposing Hydro freeze the $930-million rollout, undertake more public consultation and allow households to opt out.
“There needs to be time to have that conversation,” she said. “For me it’s about choice.”
Alto said the issue echoes the defeat of the harmonized sales tax, adding the meters again raise the spectre of a big government body rushing to impose something that many residents fear will hurt them.
“Had Hydro done a quality public information and consultation piece far in advance there would be less concern,” she said.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, who chaired the smart meter session, said he has no concerns about them.
“Look at all the ubiquitous use of cellphones and all the other frequencies that are in our airwaves,” he said, adding smart meters would be on less than a minute a day.
Various wifi networks blanket much of the Lower Mainland – some of them installed by local cities.
Moore noted some B.C. cities, including Surrey, are installing their own wireless smart water meters at homes to electronically monitor real-time water use.
Others have installed wireless parking meters.
Another fear of smart meter opponents is that BC Hydro will eventually use them for time-of-use pricing, forcing users to pay more at peak times in a bid to smooth out electricity demand.
Hydro denies it has any timeline for such a move.
UBCM delegates vote later this week on the smart meter issue – although what they do won’t be binding.
Hydro crews have already installed 100,000 smart meters across B.C. and that’s to rise to 250,000 by later this fall.
Energy minister Rich Coleman vowed the conversion will not be stopped.
Another resolution before delegates, meanwhile, demands high-speed Internet and cellphone access be extended across the province.
BC Hydro launched its own counter-offensive this week, telling UBCM delegates their radiation exposure from the wireless networks in the Vancouver convention centre adds up to 4,590 minutes this week, equivalent to years of exposure to a household smart meter.