Fiona Taylor

Fiona Taylor

Hydro rep makes case for smart meters

Customers have nothing to fear from digital meters, insists Fiona Taylor, deputy project officer

First of all, the new BC Hydro smart meters can’t tell if you are using your power to fry eggs or grow pot, only the total amount of power you consume.

Secondly, the wireless antennas the meters use to feed that data back to Hydro generate less radiation than your kitchen microwave.

And if you really, really don’t want one, something can probably be worked out, so long as you are prepared to pay extra.

That was the message delivered by Fiona Taylor, the BC Hydro deputy project officer for the public utility’s smart metering program, during a briefing with the Langley Times.

Taylor said that as of December, Hydro has swapped about half of the old analog meters for the new digital meters in the Langley area — around 25,000.

It’s a quick change that usually takes just a few minutes. The new meters simply plug into the old meter sockets.

But if the sockets are in bad shape, technicians will need more time for the upgrade.

“We’re on a journey to modernize our grid,” Taylor said.

So far, she said less than one per cent of Hydro’s 1.8 million customers have balked at installing the new meters and most of them said yes after they had a chance to get their questions answered.

One issue has been privacy, something Taylor said should not be a concern because the meters only monitor how many volts are flowing through a metre, not what they are being used for.

“You really can’t tell much of anything.”

In response to a Times question, Taylor said a marijuana grower who paid their bill and didn’t try to bypass the meter would likely not attract attention.

“Hydro is not in the business of finding grow ops,” Taylor said.

“We’re not a law enforcement agency.”

The utility estimates the new meters will save about $500 million over 20 years (once the cost of the upgrade is deducted), because customers who have a more precise idea of their usage patterns will be more likely to turn off switches to save money and because the same information allows Hydro to avoid building more power plants than required.

Hydro will also save money on meter readers.

It outsourced that work to a private company a few years ago, and those jobs will likely “go the way of the dinosaurs,” Taylor said.

But she added other new “technologically-rich” jobs will be created, because the company will need people to manage the incoming flow of data.

The biggest immediate benefit to customers will be a faster response during power outages because the meters will send an alarm when service is interrupted.

“Today, we do not know if you’re out,” Taylor said.

“We have to get a phone call.”

The new meters will broadcast very brief signals about 50 times a day, no more than 1.5 seconds in total every 24 hours.

The signal they will send is the lowest power possible to reduce drain on the grid and keep the emissions well within health limits.

In fact, Taylor said, the signal from a smart meter is far lower than the emissions from a working microwave oven and a fraction of the lowest allowable limits anywhere in the world.

When customers are reluctant to accept the new meters, Hydro policy is to discuss the issue with them, something Taylor said almost always leads to a change of heart.

People with concerns should contact Hydro before installers show up, she suggested.

Hydro has a special team on call to field questions about the new meters.

If anyone still isn’t willing to accept a meter after that, Taylor said Hydro may consider moving the meters away from a residence, but the homeowner would probably have to pay to shift them the 10 feet it takes to render the signal from the meter undetectable by current equipment.

No decision has been made on that so far, and Hydro appears to be hoping it won’t be necessary.

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