Are Smart Meters a smart move?

A person could be excused for feeling a little groggy after imbibing in research on Smart Meters, those little digital units that are intended to make consumers more aware of their energy consumption.

A person could be excused for feeling a little groggy after imbibing in research on Smart Meters, those little digital units that are intended to make consumers more aware of their energy consumption.

There’s a glut of information available, much of it conflicting. But it has left me with one conviction. The arguments for and against the meters are not as clear-cut as some proponents and opponents claim. And because there are so many unanswered questions, I’m weighing in on the opposing side.

British Columbians deserve open, transparent information on the implementation of meters in this province. Last year the provincial government brought in the Clean Energy Act, which exempted the Smart Meter plan from oversight by the independent BC Utilities Commission. Therefore the plan’s cost effectiveness, or lack thereof, goes without scrutiny.

Estimated to cost $1 billion, possibly up to two, the public doesn’t know how it will be affected. Rates are already forecast to rise 50 per cent without Smart Meters. Hydro has said the program will eventually result in $500 million worth of benefits after costs. With the size of households diminishing as the population ages, it’s been argued that energy consumption will be decreasing anyway. There’s also the issue of who gains. The first $78-million contract was reported to benefit those with ties to the Liberals. While this may or may not be questionable in itself, how do we really know the best option is to spend a billion or two to track where we use energy? Could the money be better spent investing in geothermal and solar power?

Some say we have no choice given that the U.S is going down this road. That may be true, but let’s learn the costs.

Health concerns also leave questions. Both opponents and proponents have forceful arguments for their views on whether Smart Meters and their radio waves could harm people. One recent report talks about the concerns of a nuclear expert who estimates the meters emit 100 times the radiation of a cellphone. Others say the meters are completely benign.

Estimates are that a minimum of 400 meter readers will lose their jobs, joining the ranks of other obsolete jobs, or those diminishing in number, such as gas station attendants, bank tellers and grocery store clerks. Do the meters’ benefits outweigh that loss of income?

Currently B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner is reviewing the Smart Meter plan after receiving many complaints about the potential for invasion of privacy. The little Smarties are essentially a computer outside your home attached to a communication system that collects minute-to-minute information for BC Hydro. Concerns have already arisen in the U.S. about hackers taking control of the national energy grid. With any computer system, hacking is not an unfounded fear.

These and other questions about Smart Meters must be laid to rest before the public ends up spending more millions on what could be a dumb investment.