Rates not health the real smart meter issue

The real concern with smart meters is what we're going to get for our $50 million and the rate increase that will go with it.

FortisBC is finally applying to install smart meters in its service area, so it’s full speed ahead for the tinfoil-hated crowd crying that they are a threat to life and limb.

Since B.C. Hydro brought the issue to the forefront in British Columbia, concerns about these meters have multiplied almost as fast as all the other wireless devices going into service everywhere you turn.

Duck – there goes another person talking on a cell phone!

What’s the device that motorist is peering at? Yikes, it’s a GPS navigational system!

Gee whiz, my wireless modem doesn’t seem to be connecting. Let’s check the signal.

Oh no, my neighbours have installed five more death-ray-emitting modems! We’re surrounded! Run, run quickly and we might make it to the Slocan Valley by sundown.

The idea that a meter, outside your house, broadcasting data a few times a day will be a detriment to your health is as fantastic as homeopathic claims that a drop of something diluted in an ocean of water is going to benefit it.

The real question for Fortis is what are we going to get for our $50 million and the rate increase that will go with it if the B.C. Utilities Commission approves the installation of smart meters?

Regulated public utilities are in the business of building stuff for which they can justify higher charges to customers to provide a reasonable return on their investment.

Regardless of whatever product, service or hokum they are selling, that is the utility business in a nutshell.

The push for the kind of time-of-day electrical rates in this region that smart meters will enable actually long predates the technology and the push by the provincial government and utilities to install them.

Almost three decades ago, the same kind of Kootenay populists who are now lining up to oppose the meters were supporting a group called the Electric Consumers’ Association. Long before the utility, then known as West Kootenay Power and Light, had given any thought to conservation, the ECA was intervening at its rate hearings to grill company officials on why they weren’t looking at “peak shaving” strategies such as time-of-day rates.

One reason was that WKPL was not on the cutting edge of anything in those days.

The other was that the then Cominco-owned utility’s rates were so low that if they had shaved them any further the executives would have had to hitchhike to the hearings.

Peak shaving is important for utilities because there are big costs involved in serving the high points in consumption.

To meet those daily or annual peaks, utilities must build or contract for electrical capacity to meet them.

Failure to do so will result in the kind of  “brownouts” that parts of North America have occasionally experienced in recent decades or the blackouts that hundreds of millions of Indians are now suffering.

But building generating plants and bulking up transmission systems that are not needed most of the time is costly and results in higher rates.

If you can avoid those costs with a rate structure that encourages consumers to run their dishwashers and clothes driers sometime other than during the peak consumption period in late afternoon and early evening, consumers should benefit through lower rates.

But, as discussed above, utilities are in the business of building stuff and raising rates, not lowering them or reducing the rate of increases.

This is the issue that seems to be getting lost amid all the nonsense about radio waves and health risks.

How many people will use energy-hog appliances at off hours if they can save a few pennies and will this make a difference?

Unlike most businesses, regulated utilities always make money whether they are building power plants or installing new meters.

The question is, can smart meters profit both the company and its customers?

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.


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