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Smart meter holdouts face stiff fees from BC Hydro

BC Hydro says it has installed 1.8 million smart meters, with less than four per cent of customers refusing them. - File
BC Hydro says it has installed 1.8 million smart meters, with less than four per cent of customers refusing them.
— image credit: File

It won't be cheap for opponents of wireless smart meters to keep their old analog electricity meters.

BC Hydro says it will slap an extra $35 per month fee  – $420 per year – on the roughly 60,000 smart meter holdouts for manual meter readings starting in December.

Those who don't want to pay that much have two cheaper options.

They can accept a wireless smart meter at no charge.

Or they can request a smart meter with the radio transmitter disabled for a one-time $100 charge and additional $20 per month fees starting April 1.

Either way, those who opt to stay off Hydro's smart grid will pay more.

BC Hydro has sent out letters to households that have refused smart meters outlining the options, along with a form to send back making their choice.

Those who make no choice will be assigned the $35-a-month default option.

"If you do not confirm your choice, BC Hydro will not exchange the meter at your home, and the monthly cost for keeping an old meter will be added to your BC Hydro bill," states the letter from Greg Reimer, executive vice-president of transmission and distribution.

The proposed charges must still be approved by the BC Utilities Commission.

Hydro officials say the fees offset the expense of adding infrastructure so the grid works as planned and the costs of manually performing services now automated by smart meters.

BC Hydro says those who keep old analog meters aren't guaranteed that will be an option indefinitely.

Crews will replace analog meters that break or their accuracy seals expire as long as the existing stock of old meters lasts.

If that supply runs out, or for people who move to a new home, the only option will be to accept a smart meter, either operating wirelessly or with the transmitter turned off.

Opposition group Citizens for Safe Technology calls the planned fees "extortionary" – noting they add up to as much as $25 million a year – and doubts regulators will be able to justify them.

"Why should we pay not to have something harmful put on our homes?" the group said in a message to supporters, recommending they not return the forms.

"Hydro believes that this announcement will push more customers to accept what they do not want or need. Many are understandably upset and confused by this latest ultimatum."

CST also argues there's no guarantee radio-off meters won't still radiate or that Hydro won't reactivate the transmitters without customer consent.

Smart meter opponents are also trying to launch a class action lawsuit to force a reasonable permanent no-fee opt out, noting people who move may find a wireless smart meter already exists in their new home, against their wishes.

Their action demands free choice "without extortive fees, coercion or conditions designed to intimidate."

More than 1.8 million smart meters have been installed, leaving less than four per cent of Hydro customers without one.

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