Smart meters spark debate

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board wants Fortis to allow jurisdictions to opt out of the smart meter program

Another local government has waded into the debate over smart meters.

In a 9-8 vote Thursday, the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen voted to send a letter to FortisBC asking that it allow jurisdictions to opt out of the smart meter program.

Smart meters wirelessly relay information on energy usage between collection points, and opponents worry those signals, in the form electromagnetic radiation, will negatively affect their health.

Allan Patton, the RDOS director for rural Oliver, brought the smart meter motion to the board, but said he hadn’t made up his mind on the matter and merely wished to spur debate.

“The situation is there’s lots of passionate people out there that are questioning this,” said Patton, adding he’s in favour of a precautionary approach in case some danger does exist.

“I think it’s valuable to have the debate and figure out how we want to approach this subject.”

He also noted that it doesn’t make sense for individual households to opt out when the air around them will be buzzing with signals from their neighbours’ meters, which is why he asked that whole jurisdictions, like towns, be allowed to self-exclude.

Summerland Mayor Janice Perrino, who also sits on the RDOS board, took issue with the preamble in Patton’s motion, which mentioned “significant health concerns” around the meters.

“Who says it’s significant health concerns? We need to know where that term comes from,” Perrino said.

“To just say significant health concerns” is unclear, she added. “Are we talking a cold? Are we talking cancer?”

Garry Litke, a Penticton city councillor and RDOS director, noted that “significant is in the eye of the beholder.”

His council had the debate in May, after which it voted to allow people to opt out of the smart meter program being  implemented by the city-run electrical utility.

The people that spoke out during that debate, Litke said, can’t be shaken from their belief that the meters present a health risk, and they could very well be justified in questioning Health Canada’s view that the meters are safe.

Health Canada “once thought that smoking and thalidomide was OK, too,” Litke said. “Maybe this is one of the areas we should be questioning Health Canada’s standard.”

Patton said afterward that he was surprised the motion passed, albeit it narrowly, and is glad the board has finally taken a stance on the issue.

In May, a FortisBC representative addressed the RDOS board and said the company had no plans to allow customers to decline a smart meter.

The company applied to the B.C. Utilities Commission for permission to provide smart meters for roughly 115,000 customers throughout the Southern Interior. The 747-page application is available online, and doesn’t include any provisions for opting out of the program.

Three community input sessions on the application are scheduled for next month in Osoyoos, Kelowna and Trail.