BC Hydro is permitting customers to install smart meters at different locations on their homes... at their own expense.
The move comes in response to a series of health concerns that a number of people have raised with the authority, mostly relating to the possibility of electromagnetic radiation emitting from the meters once they're installed.
Gary Murphy, chief project officer for the Smart Metering and Infrastructure (SMI) program, said in an interview with Pique that BC Hydro has been looking at options for dealing with health concerns for some time.
"There's a wide range that folks have been expressing," he said. "From headaches to nausea to other things. Frankly it's all over the map. We're doing our best to help inform customers about the health effects."
The SMI program is a $930 million initiative to install meters on British Columbia homes that allow two-way communication between the consumer and the power authority. Starting this summer, the province is to be blanketed with a "smart grid" that will allow direct communication giving what BC Hydro hopes is a more accurate picture of how much electricity is being consumed at a given moment.
Smart meter installation is supposed to commence in the Sea to Sky region in the spring of 2012, just shy of the summer 2012 deadline to have the project completed.
The program has met with opposition from critics who feel that the meters, which they claim have the same technology as cellular phones, could emit electromagnetic fields resulting from radiofrequency.
The World Health Organization claims that these fields carry a "limited" risk of brain cancer when associated with cell phones, but a spokesman with the organization once said in a New York Times article that it was "far fetched" to extend the same concerns to smart meters.
Concerns about the meters culminated in a protest on June 22 that gathered about 15 people to BC Hydro's headquarters in downtown Vancouver.
Smart meters are to be installed in place of "analog" meters that display electricity use in a series of dials, but BC Hydro is offering consumers the option of installing them somewhere else to keep them further away from occupants.
Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s provincial health officer, said that most current medical reviews around electromagnetic frequency have found no evidence of adverse health impacts on any population, but they also call for further research.
"I don't doubt there's a number of people that have symptoms," he said. "They consider that they're due to EMF exposure but the scientific community has a job of demonstrating that. So it's an area of some controversy.
"I don't doubt these people experience distress, but I don't know what the cause of it is."
Murphy said customers would need to call an electrical contractor to have the meters removed and notify BC Hydro what they were doing so that they could reconnect electrical service once the work was finished.
"It's a very small number of folks that have expressed their concern," he said. "We have always committed to deal with them respectfully and to work in a personal way to help alleviate those concerns and come up with a mutually-agreeable solution."
A spokesman with Spark Electrical, an electrical company based out of Whistler, said in a brief interview that it would be a "real expensive" process to relocate one's electrical meter on their home. He said an electrician would have to essentially relocate electrical service from one location and move it to another, a process that would involve much realignment.
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