City plugs into debate over digital metering

Penticton council will weigh the feasibility of opt-out programs for those whose concerns can’t be assuaged.

  • Feb. 28, 2012 12:00 p.m.

The debate over digital metering will continue next week, as Penticton council weighs the feasibility of opt-out programs for those whose concerns can’t be assuaged.

A public information session was held Wednesday to relay to residents information from both sides of the digital meter debate, drawing more than 100 people to Cleland Theatre.

“These meters are being installed everywhere, so what we need to discuss as a city is, if people don’t want them, how can we conduct our business? That will come up at council,” Mayor Dan Ashton said, noting the item will likely be on the agenda for Monday’s meeting. “But we’re very far down the path of installation of both the water meters and conversion on the electrical meters.”

Existing meters are based on technology that has been in place for 75 years, but suppliers and manufacturers have indicated they no longer make such meters for the North American market. All are moving to digital platforms.

The city investigated what are called the automated meter infrastructure — or what’s commonly referred to in B.C. as the “smart meter” system — as well as the automated meter reading system, referred to as AMR.

Penticton began installing the meters in 2003, and 14,500 digital units have been installed for 85 per cent coverage of the population. The city is scheduled to reach 98 per cent by the end of 2012.

Penticton resident Kevin Proteau had asked City Hall to host and participate in a forum that would present both sides relating to the digital meter debate.

“The presentation was fantastic,” he said, noting that it highlighted how proponents of the digital meters rely on the word of federal regulators. “Health Canada has lost its credibility many, many, many years ago.”

Proteau had Brian Thiessen of the Interior Smart Meter Awareness in Kamloops present alongside Curtis Bennett, an interprovincial journeyman and engineering technologist who has spoken to several groups across Canada about the effects of electromagnetic radio frequencies. Proteau referenced data found on the Internet from the Naval Medical Research Institute, which showed radio-frequency exposure resulted in health effects from seizures, convulsions, impotence, lack of concentration, memory loss, hyperthyroidism, altered pituitary function, altered menstrual activity and altered fetal development.

Proteau said he called on the city to cease converting the meters over, but was told that Penticton was too far along the process to stop.

“I just want us to live in a safe community here,” he said, adding that he now wants the city to consider an opt-out system. “Their mandate is to protect the health and the safety of the citizens of Penticton. Under due diligence, they must follow that.”

Penticton’s electric utility operations manager Eric Livolsi said the city chose the AMR technology because its technology is simple and will reduce meter reading time by 80 per cent. It also has the capability of detecting areas of outages, whereas before, residents had to call and report their power was out.

The meter emits a 900-MHz radio frequency for 0.15 of a second, every 30 seconds. It is a one-way signal directed outside of the home, allowing meter readers to walk or drive past, receive the signal and retain the data. Fortis’ AMI, or “smart meter” technology, however, emits a two-way RF signal: one outside at 900 MHz and an interior signal that can be used by “smart appliances” like thermostats at approximately 2.4 GHz.

Livolsi said he began researching the safety of the meters in the past few years, as the BC Hydro smart meter debate over radio frequencies arose. The units have met regulatory safety standards and have been assessed by health officials as not posing a hazard. He said he cannot find any reports from the “mainstream medical or scientific community” that documents health effects of low-level frequencies from AMR meters.

After all that research, he said he’s “fully convinced there is not a health issue.

“Anyone with concerns, I would urge them to do independent research and fact-checking,” he said.

“Try to get your information from an unbiased agency and who’s giving you peer-reviewed science and peer-reviewed evidence.”

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