Critic cries 'extortion' over B.C. Hydro plan

Rob Shaw/Victoria Times Colonist / Staff writer
September 19, 2013 01:00 AM

British Columbians who refuse to accept a smart meter from B.C. Hydro will have to pay $35 a month in extra fees, an amount critics call "extortion."

The Crown power corporation says the fee, outlined in a new letter to customers, will "offset the expense" of manually reading meters for customers who don't want to accept a new smart meter and allow it to wirelessly transmit power usage data directly to B.C. Hydro.

Customers who are willing to accept a new smart meter can also choose to pay $100 to have its radio transmitter turned off, and an additional $20 a month for manual readings.

"It's an extortion fee, that's all it is," said Jim Smith, president of the society. "When was the last time you paid not to have something?"

Smith called the fees "utter nonsense" and said he ripped up the letter from Hydro when it arrived at his house in Nanaimo last week.

"They just pulled these numbers out of the air," he said. "I'm not paying the fees, absolutely not."

Hydro said the fees are intended only to cover additional costs, not to generate a profit.

The government created the smart meter opt-out in July, after fierce opposition by some residents left the $1-billion province-wide program with more than 60,000 holdouts.

Critics said they were worried about wireless radio transmissions negatively affecting their health, while others complained about being bullied into accepting the meters by installers.

When it announced the opt-out provisions, the government suggested monthly fees would be as little as $20, and not the $35 outlined in its recent letter.

Hydro is facing a class-action lawsuit by some residents who continue to refuse the devices.

Customers who don't confirm a choice to B.C. Hydro by Dec. 1 will be automatically charged the $35 monthly fee and left with their old meter, according to the letter written by Greg Reimer, Hydro's executive vice-president of transmission and distribution.

The exact costs must still be reviewed by B.C.'s independent utilities commission.

The opt-out program is only available to people who have yet to receive a smart meter. More than 1.6 million people in B.C. have accepted the new devices.

People who move to a new home can choose only between a radio-off smart meter and a full-transmission smart meter. Hydro said it will replace old meters that break with other old meters as long as its stock lasts.

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