Smart (for whom?) meters

Dear Editor:

Many people, including politicians, were surprised that BC Hydro would launch a $1-billion program to retrofit all the electricity meters in the province in a one-year time frame. It seemed to fly in the face of prudent economic restraint. These smart meters have been available for more than five years - so why the urgency now?

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Some of the answer started to surface in the Vancouver Sun on July 2.

The annual meter-reading cost is more than $200 million. These people will be let go. Three-quarters of the way into the article, BC Hydro revealed that they don't pay these employees. They are hired by Accenture Utilities, a U.S.-based corporation. So if BC Hydro and the taxpayers who own it are paying to put the meters in, does Accenture refund the meter-reading savings to the taxpayer to pay for the installation? Or is Accenture, who masquerades as BC Hydro daily, paying for the capital cost and collecting the increased revenue and reduced expenses?

Something triggered a snap decision. The taxpayer must know who is paying and who is getting the rewards. The relationship between Hydro and Accenture is very cloudy at the best of times.

If you do the research on the meter, you will instantly discover the attractiveness to utilities. The retrofit cost could be recovered in two years. Doing the research also exposes class-action lawsuits against utility companies that abused the process.

The smart meter is a two-way communication device. The system provides a wide range of advanced features, including the ability to remotely turn power on or off to a customer, read usage information from a meter, detect a service outage, detect the unauthorized use of electricity, change the maximum amount of electricity that a customer can demand at any time; and remotely change the meter's billing plan from credit to prepay as well as from flat-rate to multi-tariff. The multi-tariff got a California utility in trouble.

The smart meter using the "Hall" effect captures all usage. The old meters used a very reliable "eddy" current motor and are almost indestructible. They could not read "in-rush" current of motors. This is the amount of electricity every motor needs to get up to speed. A rated four-amp motor will require 32 amps to get started for half a second. Every startup current for every appliance motor and every light bulb will be recorded. Every household will experience an increase in their bills. Up to five per cent for the same usage. In-rush current has never been recorded before so it's an automatic bonus to the bill collector.

All the new meters are wireless computers. They are either Wi-Fi or cellular-based in the 900 mHz to 2.4 GHz bands. They are capable of recording much more data than KWH's. Now your house can be shut off with the click of a mouse - but I'll bet the re-connection fee remains.

Every problem will be blamed on software glitches and hackers sabotaging the system. The system is rife for that event. Customer service will retreat outside British Columbia's borders.

We have the rivers and the dams. We own that utility. We must control the distribution process.

It's time BC Hydro had a major public hearing into the smart meters and all of its activities. This better happen before we discover that Accenture was the beneficiary of a sleight of hand.

Leo Vanderbyl North Vancouver

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