Ladysmith council to address smart meter concerns

Health impacts in spotlight

  • Aug. 2, 2011 12:00 p.m.

Concerns about the use of smart meters in B.C. has prompted Ladysmith council to seek more information on the devices.


Mary Lowther spoke to council on behalf of the Citizens for Safe Technology during the July 18 government services committee.


Lowther outlined the groups concerns about the wireless devices including health, cost and security.


During her presentation, Lowther claimed the World Health Organization has classified the wireless devices as a carcinogen — the same as lead or DDT.


Citing concerns listed in Cindy Sage’s Sage Report blog, Lowther said the radio frequency radiation spikes from the meters come several times a minute and can lead to health problems. According to, these spikes can measure 4,000 microwatts/centimetre. Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 limits levels to 600 microwatts/cm.


Lowther said the group is concerned that the meters will send their signals to adjacent homes for collection, meaning there will be varying strength of the signal depending on where you live.

Lowther also presented the groups concerns about hacking, noting there are websites where people can learn how to alter theirs, and others’, smart meters.


Coun. Lori Evans said she found Lowther’s presentation intriguing, but wants to hear more information.


In the end, council asked staff for more information on the meters.


Fiona Taylor, the deputy chief project officer for BC Hydro’s Smart Metering program, said they are absolutely convinced their meters are safe, when they consider the meters chosen, design work and their participation with third parties. Taylor said the meters are outside the home and are fitted with a metal backing.


“They are not directing anything into a home,” said Taylor, adding the meters are one one-hundredth the power of a cellphone signal with a one watt radio.


They collect information about overall electricity use, voltage and power quality factors, not from individual appliances.


The meter, said Taylor, records every hour. Then, four to six times a day — Taylor said BC Hydro is trying to reduce that number — the meter wakes up and transfers the data to a gathering device situated on local power poles and back to BC Hydro. If the reporting path is blocked, the signal will detour to a neighbouring meter, she said.


And in terms of the signal leaving the meters, “It’s an analog signal that comes out of the meter and it’s the same strength signal, there is no peaking,” said Taylor, adding the strength diminishes over distance.


The meters are only on for a total of one minute a day said Taylor, and are well under the safety limits.


Taylor said they understand some people are concerned about the meters and Health Canada’s standards, so BC Hydro compared the radio frequency against the toughest regulations around the world — those located in Switzerland.


In Switzerland, they allow 4.5 microwatts/cm2 in sensitive areas such as schools.


BC Hydro’s meters, she said, measure two microwatts/cm2.


Taylor said over the 20-year lifetime of the meter, the exposure is equal to 30 minutes on a cellphone. In terms of hacking, Taylor said their signals are encrypted and that  BC Hydro works with security companies that try to find weak points to break into the system. The Privacy Commissioner is also looking into the meters.