Montrose: Council unable to opt village out of smart meter program

Sometimes there’s power in numbers but not for FortisBC customers in the Village of Montrose.

Sometimes there’s power in numbers but not for FortisBC customers in the Village of Montrose.

Resident Mario Como approached council last week with an impassioned plea to Mayor Joe Danchuk to unite the village to opt out of the utility company’s 2014 smart meter program.

“We had the vision of a moratorium in Montrose,” said Como, delegated to speak on behalf of “concerned citizens of Montrose.”

“What I would like to see is opting out for all of our community and send a clear message to Fortis.”

Como cited health concerns related to the radio frequency technology used to “read” the wireless meters, and infrastructure expenses FortisBC electrical customers will inevitably be on the hook to pay.

“The village has the responsibility to resist high pressure tactics by providing sanctuary against the harmful effects of radiation and protecting human rights,” said Como, adding, “only as a whole community are we able to avoid ill health effects, security issues, expenses of wireless metering and misinformation by FortisBC.”

In August, FortisBC announced its approval from the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) for the company to proceed with its Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project next year.

At that time, the company confirmed that customers could choose to opt out of a new meter and its wireless transmissions, but the consumer would have to pay the “incremental” costs, not yet determined, related to the radio-off option.

Kevin Chartres, Montrose chief administrative officer, explained that council cannot make a uni-lateral decision to opt out the village’s 500 residences.

“In regards to Mr Como’s request, the village has no authority to opt anyone out,” he said, adding, “other than the village’s own services.”

Next, Chartres presented council with the dollar amount a FortisBC customer will have to pay with a radio-off option.

“FortisBC sent the Utilities Commission a proposal Friday (Aug. 30),” said Chartres. “Right now, they are proposing a one-time cost of $110 to opt out, and $22 per read thereafter for people who chose to opt out.”

The BCUC will go through a public process to review the fees before anything is finalized, he added.

“I don’t think we should make a decision or should we, for every individual,” said Mayor Danchuk. “But we do thank Mr Como and we will wait for more information to come.”

The $51 million AMI project affects 130,000 FortisBC electrical customers, in homes and businesses stretching from Princeton in the west, through the Okanagan and West Kootenay, to Creston in the east.

“Advanced meters will pay for themselves by nearly eliminating the expense of manual meter reading,” Neil Pobran, corporate communications manager, told the Times last month.

In addition to job losses, controversy swirls around the health hazards smart meters may present, although the company maintains that advanced meters were approved after expert health witnesses presented extensive evidence to the BCUC during a public regulatory process.

“People aren’t aware of the situation unless its hits them right between the eyes,” said Como. “This is no different that the asbestos, PCBs or tobacco industry issues. The repercussions may not be now, but ten to 15 years down the road, it will be a different story.”

Advanced meters, which are similar in appearance to the traditional model, will be installed starting next year with an expected completion date by the end of 2015.

According to FortisBC, smart meters will also prevent electricity theft and provide customers with more information and fewer bill estimates.