MLA's smart-meter message 'muddied water even more': NDP critic

NDP energy critic John Horgan (left) and BC Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg (Surrey-White Rock). -
NDP energy critic John Horgan (left) and BC Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg (Surrey-White Rock).
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NDP energy critic John Horgan says it's time for energy minister Rich Coleman and the BC Liberal government to clarify a "muddled" position on BC Hydro smart meter installations and tell the public just what options they have.

The situation has become even more confused, he said, by information coming from BC Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg's office that states that customers who don't consent to installation of a smart meter will not be 'forced' to accept one.

The information, provided to a constituent by the Surrey-White Rock MLA's staff, has been widely publicized online by smart-meter opponents Citizens for Safe Technology and the Coalition to Stop Smart Meters.

Hogg told the Peace Arch News the information was verified with Coleman's office. He also pointed to an opinion piece by Coleman, distributed on Jan. 23, in which the minister said BC Hydro will not install a new meter without the homeowner's consent.

Hogg told PAN it's his understanding that customers will be able, ultimately, to opt out of the program.

Horgan said the BC Liberals must address the "mixed messages" they are giving out on smart meters.

"One week customers are receiving threatening letters saying the meters will be installed no matter what," he said in a news release issued Tuesday.

"The next week the energy minister pens an opinion piece saying BC Hydro won't install a new meter without the homeowner's consent. Which is it? You can't have it both ways."

Coleman, who has not returned repeated calls from PAN since Jan. 14, was asked in an email Wednesday whether, at the end of the day, a BC Hydro customer can opt out of the smart-meter program.

A ministry spokesperson responded, saying only that "BC Hydro is taking some extra time to work with customers who still have concerns about getting a new meter… In the meantime, we will not install a new meter for these customers unless we have their permission."

Horgan told PAN that his calls to BC Hydro had failed to clarify the issue, and that a spokeperson had been unable to supply any written policy to back up Coleman's comments.

Horgan said he is still not sure whether an opt-out is possible, even though he remembers hearing Coleman say it was, in response to a question he asked in the Legislature two years ago.

Most information published by BC Hydro and Coleman's office has suggested that absolute compliance with the program is necessary for the grid upgrade to work. Both have stressed the importance of helping customers understand the benefits of smart meters.

"Now the information from Mr. Hogg and his office has muddied the water even more," Horgan said, although he was quick to add he does not blame Hogg or his staff.

Horgan said he understands from his own experience that MLAs are being inundated with calls from concerned constituents on the issue and that their staff are working hard to provide information.

"I hold Gordon Hogg in very high regard and this is no criticism of (Hogg and his staff)," he said.

"But where is the leadership from the B.C. government and the minister?"

Horgan – who acknowledged he is skeptical about some of the claims of smart-meter opponents – said much confusion could have been avoided if smart meters had come under the regulatory oversight of the BC Utilities Commission. That would have included hearings in which all evidence for and against smart meters could have been reviewed with the opportunity of cross-examination, he said.

Instead, a billion-dollar upgrade of B.C.'s electrical grid was sold initially on its ability to defeat grow-ops, he said.

"My concern is, if this is a great idea, it should be able to stand some scrutiny," he said, adding that a lack of oversight has allowed opponents to panic members of the public about potentially harmful effects of smart meters.

"We (MLAs) are getting more play on this than we did on the HST, by a country mile," he said. "The way it was implemented was disastrous."


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