Smart meter installation nearly done

BC Hydro is getting close to the end of its installation of 1.7 million wireless electricity meters

Smart meters are tested at BC Hydro laboratory. When the system is complete next year

BC Hydro is getting close to the end of its installation of 1.7 million wireless electricity meters, but the “smart grid” won’t be functional until next spring.

Until then, meters will still be read manually or consumption estimated for billing purposes. And for one more winter storm season, people will still have to call BC Hydro to report a power outage, before the grid begins automatic metering and reporting of electrical failures.

Cindy Verschoor, BC Hydro’s communications manager for the smart meter program, said about four per cent of the meter installations remain to be done, mainly on the Gulf Islands. Some of the old meters remain in locations around the province, either because they are inaccessible or because owners have refused new ones.

Manual meter readings will be checked against automatic readings during the testing phase, to verify accuracy. Verschoor said there have been six meters replaced due to inaccurate readings or other defects, but generally the new meters are more accurate, and they eliminate human errors in reading or entering data required for mechanical meters.

“All of our meters have to be certified by Measurement Canada, which is a consumer protection agency, just like the pump at the gas station and the scale at the grocery store,” she said.

While BC Hydro owns the meter, the base and connections are part of the owner’s electrical system and can be placed anywhere. In some cases, garages or decks have been built over meters, and if they can’t be read, the bill is based on an estimate until a wireless meter is installed.

Verschoor said only two customers out of more than one million have opted to have the meter located away from their home. Those who refuse for whatever reason have their installation placed “on hold” while their concerns are addressed by BC Hydro.

After media reports of fires associated with the program, BC Hydro commissioned a study of residential fire reports by Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis and researcher Joseph Clare. It shows that electrical fires have declined since the installation of new meters began.

Damaged meter sockets are usually the owner’s responsibility, but BC Hydro inspects them at the time of installation and offers to fix them at no charge if they are damaged. So far, 1,200 meter bases have been replaced.

A house fire in Mission last spring took place three days after a smart meter was installed. Verschoor said the fire is still under investigation by the B.C. Safety Authority, but the meter has been ruled out as a cause. Despite media reports to the contrary, there have been no fires attributed to smart meters, she said.