Are BC Hydro smart meters the biggest uncontrolled biological human experiment of all time, or are they just a sensible way to save energy and bring the provincial grid into the modern world?
That’s a question Qualicum Beach councillors are grappling with after hearing two conflicting presentations on the issue this week.
Speaking as a delegation at Monday night’s regular monthly council meeting, Joanne Sales urged council to request a moratorium on the installation of the meters until safety, privacy and economic concerns are resolved.
Those concerns, she said, include fears of health impacts from radiation emitted from the wireless devices, noting that microwave radiation had been recently classified as a 2b carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“People are being exposed to … high doses of microwave radiation within their homes from their own meters and from their neighbours’ meters, which are signaling to distant receivers,” Sales said. “Many people are reporting health effects soon after the meter is placed on their homes.”
Sales also expressed concern about privacy concerns, wondering if the digital signals being sent from the meters could be hacked — giving thieves information about when they tend to be home and when they’re away.
She also argued that the meters do not conserve energy, calling claims that they do a false premise.
Sales stressed that the Municipal Act requires municipalities to take action upon learning about something that could be harmful to its residents.
Sales was joined at the podium by resident Marcus Schluschen, who said his wife, Benita, is extremely sensitive to wireless emissions, including radiation from cell towers, cell phones, cordless phones and wi-fi.
He said while they have no wireless devices in their home, they are inundated by what he called electronic smog from other quarters.
“Her electronic hyper-sensitivity has a devastating impact on our lives,” he said. “The proposed mesh network of wireless smart meters by BC Hydro will compound her difficulties considerably.”
Commenting on the issue, Coun. Barry Avis noted the issue of smart meters is high on the agenda for the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting next month and council will be voting on a resolution at that time.
The other side of the story was presented Wednesday, when Hydro community relations manager Ted Olynyk spoke at the regular council open house meeting.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Olynyk said. “We need to clarify it because, for whatever reason, unnecessary fear is being promoted and we are trying to play catch-up and deal with scientific fact.”
One of the key fallacies, he said, involves the type of emissions coming from the devices.
“This is a wi-fi network,” he said. “The device will send out a signal four to six times a day for less than a minute in total. In a 20-year period, if you stood right by the meter every time, that would equal just one 30-minute cell phone conversation.”
As well, he said privacy concerns were off base. He said the encryption used in the meters is similar to that used with online banking. As well, he stressed there is no way Hydro can tell what devices are being used when.
“We don’t have access,” he said. “The meters will give us no more information than we have now. All we are looking at is overall consumption and no personal data is being transmitted, just electrical consumption from the address to the collector.”
In response to the submissions, Mayor Teunis Westbroek suggested it might be a good idea to have an independent body monitor the situation once it is in place in order to allay concerns and said he will suggest such a course of action at the UBCM.
“We want to figure out what is fact and what is conjecture,” he said.