This is the Life: Commission to rule on rights

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If the BC Utilities Commission rules, as is quite likely, that the installation of what are commonly known as smart meters is fine for electricity providers, consumers could face a classic case of Hobson’s choice.

After receiving copies of documents being forwarded to the commission by local residents, I took advantage of an opportunity recently and asked a FortisBC representative if residents will have to choose between allowing smart meters or having electricity in their homes. It would be the utilities commission’s decision, he said, but it does have the right to order electricity providers to offer an opt-out clause.

Such an order seems unlikely to me, given that the premise for Fortis and BC Hydro’s plan to install the high-tech meters is to save costs. Customers who opt out would cost the utilities proportionately more to serve than they do now, because their systems wouldn’t be designed to provide alternatives.

Thus, we are about to witness a showdown between companies that are literally directed by the utilities commission to keep consumer costs down and individuals who, for a variety of reasons, are vehemently opposed to having smart meters in their homes.

Locally, Dr. Imme Askevold and Carol Ann O’Learo, and no doubt many others, have been waging a battle against what FortisBC refers to as advanced metering infrastructure. They have written letters to the BC Utilities Commission and gathered a massive amount of information, scientific and otherwise, to back their contention that the proposed meters are a bad idea.

“Please do not allow these corporations to install such devices, all they see is how they will generate dollars and power (and I don’t mean just electrical),” Askevold writes after citing health concerns based on science. “Crestonites are not the only community concerned about these meters.”

O’Learo has told the commission that she will not allow a smart meter to be installed in her home.

“Please be notified that there will not be a ‘smart meter’ installed at the address of Ms O’Learo,” she writes. “I’m sure you are all well aware of the dangers of EMF (electromagnetic field) waves emitted from these meters —as if we aren’t inundated with enough of them already via cellphones/towers, Wi-Fi networks, etc.”

I’m not a scientist or a medical doctor, so I’m not in a position to analyze the situation with any reliability. But I do know that perception is important and if one believes one is being exposed to harm, that belief can have a huge negative health effect. It’s no different than the well-documented positive effects of placebos.

FortisBC, like BC Hydro, which provides electricity to most of the province, argues that the old mechanical meters are outdated and must be replaced, and that the data-emitting meters will save costs by eliminating the need for door-to-door meter readers and also by allowing consumers to become more aware of their power usage habits, which they can then adjust if they want to save money.

Part of the problem lies in my perception, at least, that every time a large corporation offers us a cheaper solution to something, it never seems to translate into more dollars in our pockets. Shareholders and executives seem to be the major beneficiaries. That might not quite be the case with a utility, which is highly regulated to the point of its ability to make profits, but it’s easy to sympathize with a wary public.

The rights of the individual have taken a severe beating in the last decade or more and it seems like only a matter of time before citizens begin to say enough is enough. Consumers will argue that just because they want or need to purchase a product or a service, it doesn’t follow that they want more and more intrusion into their personal lives. It’s a hard point to argue, whether or not one believes in the scientific validity of their arguments.

Freedom of choice is a commonly heard argument. It will be fascinating to see whether the BC Utilities Commission, ostensibly at arm’s length from the government and utility providers, and independent in its decision-making powers, rules that the only choice — Hobson’s Choice — to B.C. residents is to have power delivered to their homes or not.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.