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No reversal on smart meters, Coleman insists
Energy Minister Rich Coleman says smart meters won't be forced into homes over the next few months but he denied reports the province has reversed its policy and will let objectors opt out of having the wireless devices.
"We're going back to talk to our customers," he said Thursday. "We'll not force any customer to take a meter."
Coleman said he believes most smart meter opponents will ultimately agree to take them after they talk to BC Hydro reps.
But exactly what will happen to holdouts who resist to the end is unclear.
Coleman said the next steps would be decided after "some re-education" and an effort to work with objectors in a "respectful" way.
"(We'll) see how many at the end of maybe two or three months we have left and then we'll have a conversation about where we go from here," he said.
Asked whether the meters will ultimately be mandatory, Coleman said: "I'm not going to make that decision until I see the results of the next couple of months.
"Out of repect for our customers, we go through that first without coming with whatever program would come later."
BC Hydro officials said earlier this week they will take more time to work through customer concerns and won't install meters without permission in households who oppose them. Coleman had also indicated that in an earlier op-ed piece.
South Surrey-White Rock Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg on Wednesday claimed Coleman had agreed smart meter objectors would get a permanent opt-out.
"He actually contacted me and apologized," Coleman said, adding Hogg's office misinterpreted his position. (Reached later, Hogg insisted his office checked with Coleman's first and that he does not believe he was wrong. See related story In Peace Arch News.)
NDP energy critic John Horgan accused the Liberals of making a muddled attempt to neutralize the contentious issue ahead of the provincial election.
"They want to reduce the amount of frustration they find in communities right across B.C.," Horgan said.
He said the attempt to punt the issue to after the May 14 vote has only confused the public, adding MLA offices have been "swamped by concerned citizens who want answers."
For months, wireless meter opponents have posted notices and in some cases built cages or other structures around their old analog meters to keep Hydro contractors from converting them.
But those who didn't take such steps and now have a smart meter won't be allowed to switch back – no matter how the province ultimately handles the final holdouts.
"We can’t remove a smart meter once it has been installed because they are now standard operating equipment like utility poles and power lines," BC Hydro spokesman Greg Alexis said in an emailed statement. "Also, the old meters are being recycled and are no longer available."
Hydro officials have so far refused to disclose what proportion of smart meters are required in a given area for the new smart grid to function effectively.
More than 1.74 million smart meters have so far been installed province-wide, pointing to a penetration rate of at least 93 per cent, with a combination of holdouts and accepting customers still to go.
Horgan said an NDP government would ask the B.C. Utilities Commission to advise on how best to deal with households who refuse the new meters.
"What we need now is not government or a political party telling the public why this is a good or bad idea, but an independent third party."
That's what the province should have done from the outset, Horgan said, but added B.C.'s Clean Energy Act exempted the smart meter program from regulatory scrutiny.
"They're reaping what they sowed," he said. "This $1-billion program was jammed through for reasons unknown to me."
Horgan said he expects the BCUC would consider a range of options for holdout households.
He said one might be to subsidize the cost of placing a wireless meter at the edge of the property and running a wire to it, potentially allowing the customer to pay their share over the long term through small monthly payments.
Horgan said he has no personal concerns about smart meter safety but said the government's approach of dismissing opponents as "just irrational people doesn't diminish the anxiety they're feeling."
Some objectors have also refused to accept smart meters because they believe BC Hydro will eventually implement time-of-use pricing that charges more at peak periods. Coleman previously ruled that out.
Breakdown of smart meter installation progress
Source: BC Hydro