Fiona Taylor

Making the case for smart meters

A BC Hydro official argued there are many concrete benefits to smart metering, and she mapped out some of them for a small crowd in Chilliwack on Thursday.

Myth-busting is a big part of her job.

BC Hydro’s deputy chief project officer for smart meters said she had to become extremely well-versed on a technical topic.

Fiona Taylor was in Chilliwack on Sept. 29 at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon to lay out the reasons and rationale for smart meters.

“Bottom line is that we need to modernize the grid. Smart meters are a part of that,” Taylor said.

Rising opposition to and mistrust of BC Hydro’s plans made headlines in the media last week. But the goal of the smart metering program is to update the utility by replacing 50-year old metering equipment for an estimated 1.8 million users. The sweeping infrastructure upgrade began in July.

“Smart meters will be our standard going forward,” Taylor said.

At a cost of almost a billion dollars to implement and run the smart metering program, there is also a “conservative” estimate of $1.6 billion worth of financial benefits, she said.

“That nets out to more than $500 million in benefits.”

When BC Hydro saves money by reduced theft or by automated meter reading, it also reduces “rate pressure” for consumers, she said.

British Columbians are being told there is no “opt out” available and the transition to smart metering is underway, with 100,000 smart meters installed so far.

“We need the integrity of the whole system,” she said.

But calls for opting-out ability have started.

Taylor said it was important to realize there are many concrete benefits of smart metering, and she mapped some of them out for a small Chilliwack crowd on Thursday.

She took on some of the myths and fear-mongering about health, safety and privacy concerns, which continue to vex officials despite the massive information blitz the utility’s communication experts have been waging.

“There is a fair bit of misinformation out there, so we’re trying to clear that up,” Taylor said.

Smart meters became a hot-button issue at the UBCM conference when a majority of municipal leaders voted for a moratorium on the smart meter rollout Friday, and protesters with petitions were set up outside the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Taylor used simple analogies to illustrate her points. One example was that the radio frequency emitted from a smart meter over its 20-year lifespan is the equivalent to a 30 minute cell phone call. That is very low compared to other types of wireless and RF exposure, she argued.

The meters communicate over radio frequencies for “less than a minute” in total each day, she underlined, and health officials say there are no known health risks.

BC Hydro has been working toward the transition for five years, but the nature of the concerns raised by opponents keep changing.

The change means the use of meter readers will be dramatically reduced by about 99 per cent, Taylor said, responding to a question about job losses.

But it won’t technically be BC Hydro employees losing their jobs.

“One of the things people don’t know is that BC Hydro outsources that facet of its operation,” she said, adding it was unknown how many Accenture jobs will be eliminated with the switch to smart metering.

Some of those workers also read gas meters.

The power signal is below the world’s strictest standards, and it does not send out data continuously but rather it stores it, and then transmits the data three or four times a day.

Privacy should not be an issue either for customers, she said. BC Hydro will not have access to any information about residents or businesses’ use of power — except in terms of volumes measured on an hourly basis.

However, the new meters will significantly reduce electricity theft and meter tampering, which makes safer communities and lowers hydro rates, she argued. An outage gets flagged immediately on a map after a signal is sent out in the meter’s “last gasp” of functionality before the power goes out.

According to BC Hydro documents, smart meters are ultimately safer, more reliable, and will offer better customer service options with in-home feedback tools.

The old ones will be removed and the power will be shut off for about a minute. The decommissioned meters will be broken down into components and recycled, she said.

“We understand that people have questions and concerns and we’re asking them to contact us so we can continue the dialogue,” Taylor added.

Find out more at www.bchydro/smartmeters.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/CHWKjourno

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