Les Leyne, Times Colonist, October 01, 2011
Premiers are always looking for a crowd-pleasing stunt for the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.
Four years ago, Gordon Campbell came up with smart meters.
It seemed like a natural. People love home electronics, don't they?
Smart meters are fancy new gadgets. And they're the best kind - they're absolutely free.
So Campbell waved one in front of the UBCM delegates and used his premier's prerogative to order one for everyone in B.C. It was part of his declaration of "total war" on climate change.
He announced an entire suite of climate-change initiatives and capped it with the smart meters, which would allow better monitoring of energy consumption and encourage conservation.
What a difference four years makes.
Many of the same people who applauded the smart meters four years ago voted Friday to urge a moratorium on the mandatory aspect of the $930-million project for a confusing series of reasons that involve everything from weird radiation claims to the fact that it was Campbell who ordered them.
The motion passed by a slim 55-45 per cent margin and will likely be politely ignored. But it's another leftover Campbell headache for Premier Christy Clark to assume.
There are a few valid reasons to criticize the smart meter program. The cost estimate rose during the planning, to $930 million. It was imposed by way of an end-run around the B.C. Utilities Commission, although if it had been subject to review there the price would probably have doubled again.
B.C. Hydro - for all the money it spends on other initiatives - dropped the ball on warming its customers to the new technology. And there are usually objections to being told you're getting something, as opposed to being asked if you want it.
But some of the reasons for objecting make you wonder about people's boundless appetite for worrying about things that simply don't matter.
I'm not a radiation scientist. But it's strange that a roomful of people carrying cellphones strapped near sensitive parts of their body and carting electronic tablets every waking moment, in a hall that is humming with Wi-Fi coverage, can take the time to fret about a gadget that will be stuck on the outside wall of a house.
Living with a smart meter for the next 20 years will expose you to the same amount of radiation as conducting a 30-minute cellphone conversation, according to B.C. Hydro.
The vote is a lesson in how a small group of passionately worried people can influence a larger group of politicians whose job is to try and accommodate all interests. Most people probably think smart meters are a good idea. But they're passive. The "No" side is a lot more active, and won the day.
B.C. Hydro tested smart meters in a few communities, Campbell River among them, and found they work as advertised. Most users saved electricity and money. (Former energy minister Richard Neufeld was one of the guinea pigs, and nothing terrible happened to him. In fact, he wound up in the Senate.)
And the three deputy ministers who recently tore B.C. Hydro apart looking for cost savings examined the smart meter program and pronounced it a winner.
The meters are going in all over the world, with varying degrees of reaction. The B.C. verdict so far is dumb implementation of a smart idea.
Just So You Know: The city of Colwood sponsored the UBCM resolution, which calls for a halt to mandatory installation until the "major problems" are addressed.
That's the same city that created a "Solar Colwood" initiative that includes a whole-hearted embrace of smart-grid, smart-home technologies.
"Solar Colwood will offer smart home 'starter packages' with state-ofthe-art wireless, table or wall mounted control panels ... People can even control their smart home from a smart phone," the city enthused.
The Solar Colwood website gushes on at length about smart meters, noting the radio frequencies are "less than that emitted from a baby monitor."
The full Solar Colwood plan, with homes full of transmitting and receiving smart appliances, demonstrates Colwood is a "green learning university city, willing to learn about and try new approaches."
Calling for a timeout on the technology your entire green plan is based on certainly qualifies as a new approach.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2011