FortisBC applies for smart meter installation in Greater Trail

Opponents have small window of opportunity to protest

The meter is now running for people looking to stop the advance of smart meters into the confines of the West Kootenay.

FortisBC filed an application with the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) July 26 for the installation of around 115,000 meters in the West Kootenay and the Okanagan, thrusting the application review process—and the hot potato topic of smart meters—into the public sphere.

That means time is of the essence for people to convince the BCUC powers that be to rule against the application and the project mandated by the provincial government’s Clean Energy Act. The deadline for public input has not yet been set.

Once the FortisBC application is approved by the BCUC, people will not be able to choose whether they have a smart meter installed or not. On July 25 BC Hydro told the City of Fernie council that residents would not be given the option to opt out of having a smart meter installed.

Instead, Cliff Paluck, co-chair of the Kootenay chapter of Citizens for Safe Technology (CST), said people need to rally right now and make their voice heard in the review process.

The CST is now applying for intervener status—a participant who intends to fully participate in the review process—to have someone get up and speak before the commission.

“We need to intervene and we need to make our case heard, and we need to make it loud,” Paluck said. “It is our one kick at the cat.”

The application could affect homes throughout Greater Trail, the West Kootenay and the Okanagan, except for Nelson, Grand Forks and Penticton where they have their own utilities.

Although the review process timeline has not been set, BCUC’s director of policy, planning and customer relations, Alison Richter, said the standard review procedure will involve a local public workshop—an information question-and-answer session.

“Then we do written hearings or oral public hearings. It all depends really on what the utility proposes and what the interveners propose,” she said.

Interveners could be private companies or individuals that register with the BCUC application process to be heard.

More than 50 communities throughout the province have passed resolutions requesting either an opt out option or a moratorium on the smart meters, including the Village of Montrose and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB).

In May, Montrose village council carried a motion supporting a moratorium on the installation of smart meters in the community, while the RDKB backed a Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) motion that called for a moratorium on smart meters until more research was shown.

Area A Director Ali Grieve brought the resolution to the board of directors meeting, and recently completed a mini survey on smart meters, with a fairly close split for and against their usage.

“Some people are still expressing some serious concerns about health issues,” she said. “People are still split and I would like to see some better information come out to people to address what their specific health concerns are.”

The advanced meters communicate directly with FortisBC and provide electricity consumption information directly to customers. The energy the meters emit has caused concern amongst many people who want the installation of the meters stopped.

“There is still a lot of concern and fear, and perhaps it is unjustified, but then let’s have a meeting and talk about it,” Grieve said.

Should FortisBC receive a positive decision on its $48-million advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) project, the utility would proceed to upgrade its electrical grid by exchanging close to 115,000 manually read meters in 2014 and end with advanced meters by the end of 2015, incorporating the supporting hardware and software.

Although FortisBC corporate communications advisor Neal Pobran would not comment on if people could block installation of the meters, he noted FortisBC customers had some say on where the meters could be located on their property.

“What we’re doing is we are working with customers to move their meters to different spots on their property,” he said. “If they want to they can put it somewhere else, like on a garage, if they want to move it.”

To date, 1.5 million of the proposed 1.87 million smart meters have been installed across the province.

People can always send comments to the BCUC, and their comments will be considered as part of the review process.

How it works

According to the FortisBC website, advanced meters look similar to existing digital electricity meters, but provide more information.

Smart meters digitally measure electricity usage, sending the data periodically (four to six times a day) through a two-way connection to FortisBC.

The information collected from advanced meters is similar to the information collected today from meter readers, however, advanced metering allows for more frequent updates of the information.

The hourly metering data is available to customers on a secure website where they can monitor electricity consumption.

The actual switching of meters for FortisBC electricity customers would involve a service outage to allow FortisBC crews to remove the old meter and replace it with the advanced meter.

Source: FortisBC

Becoming involved

To register as an active or non-active intervenor, write to the Commission Secretary (http://www.bcuc.com/RegisterIndex.aspx) and provide the following information:

• Your name• Mailing address • Telephone number • Email address (if applicable) • Name of organization you are representing• Include a description of the scope and nature of your interest in the application.

An active intervernor is a participant who intends to fully participate in the review process. Active intervenors will receive copies of the application, all correspondence and filed documentation.

A non-active intervenor is a participant who does not intend to fully participate in the review process, but wishes to receive all filed documentation with the option of making a submission in regard to any issues that may arise.