Smart choice

Energy Minister Bill Bennett wants BC Hydro to offer some customers manual meter readings, for a price.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett says there are about still 60,000 BC Hydro customers who are still resisting installation of wireless electricity meters, and he wants the utility to offer them manual meter readings, for a price.

“What we’re contemplating at this point is that maybe we can deliver a digital meter that has the radio turned off,” Bennett told reporters at the B.C. legislature last week. “We just feel that we don’t want to bully people into taking the smart meter if they don’t want it.”

Modifying the meters for different customers and sending out human meter readers would generate costs that should not be borne by the vast majority of customers who accepted wireless meters, Bennett said.

He offered no estimate of the cost, but predicted that more people will drop their opposition rather than pay for extra service. Bennett said he agrees with B.C.’s medical health officer that signals from wireless meters are not a health hazard, but he doesn’t want them forced on people who believe otherwise.

NDP energy critic John Horgan said he is pleased the government has finally agreed with his position that people should be given another option. But he wants the issue referred to the B.C. Utilities Commission to set the price, so customers aren’t “gouged” to pay for other cost overruns at the utility.

“We said before the election that an opt-out provision was appropriate,” Horgan said. “It’s done in other jurisdictions. Quebec is leading the way here in Canada. It’s about time.”

With 96 per cent of wireless meters installed, customers in some areas are receiving daily usage information on their BC Hydro customer web pages. Smart meters send a radio signal equivalent to a brief mobile phone call to report usage, and also signal when power is interrupted.

Digital meters also detect when they are tampered with, and the quality of electrical supply.