Some Merrittonians are concerned about the potential harmful side effects of BC Hydro’s Smart Meter program, but after hearing arguments from both sides of the issue council has decided to wait until discussions at the upcoming Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference before taking any action.

“I think we need to let this go to UBCM before we make any decisions,” said Councillor Mike Goetz following presentations from a BC Hydro representative and a concerned member of the community.

Merritt resident Walter Vohradsky made a presentation to council at a previous meeting outlining his concerns about the wireless smart metres and requested council place a moratorium on the installation of Smart Meters within city limits.

“Given your ‘Duty of Care’ towards the citizens of our community, I request that you, by way of Council Resolution, petition the Minister of Health and, due to the potential for wireless smart meters to cause harm, request a moratorium on mandatory installation of wireless smart meters,” Vohradsky said during a regular council meeting on Aug. 9.

In his presentation Vohradsky addressed his concerns including health affects from radio frequency, privacy issues and security among others.

Regarding health issues, Vohradsky referenced that fact that on May 31 the World Health Organization classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMF) as a potential carcinogen to humans and said that with smart meters people would be exposed to high doses of radiation within their homes.

He also expressed concern that the meters would keep records of personal daily use, recording which appliances are used and when.

“Companies in the U.S. have declared these records propriety information and and have sold it to marketing companies, insurers and others,” said Vohradsky. “This truly is an invasion of privacy in the worst way.”

Perhaps more than anything, Vohradsky expressed frustration with the way the program was introduced. The Clean Energy Act from May 2010 mandates the BC Hydro replace all existing meters with a Smart Meter by 2012, he said, adding that the act specifies installation can be done without consent of the owner.

“Most RF EMF exposures from cell phones, cordless phones and other wireless digital devices are optional,” he said. “The imposition of this hazard via an essential service in undemocratic and non-consensual and likely illegal.”

Following his presentation council suggested it would be helpful to hear a presentation from BC Hydro as well and public relations coordinator Gene Bryant was invited to the Aug. 23 meeting.

Bryant explained that the smart meters would help BC Hydro update a 50-year-old system allowing them to pinpoint power outages, reduce theft and power diversions and save labour and cost.

“The benefits to rate payers are tremendous,” he said. “We’re taking a 50-year-old way of doing business and making it current.”

Addressing concerns, Bryant said that Smart Meters would be active for an average of one minute per day including the relay of information and suggested that over a meter’s 20-year life span the radio frequency exposure would be equivalent to a 30-minute cell phone call. He added that the meter boxes would act like a shield and help direct radio frequency signals away from the home.

Goetz questioned Bryant about the safety of transmission towers that would be installed for communication with the meters and would give off more radiation. Bryant responded that distance would reduce the exposure to radiation and that the towers would be installed high above the ground.

At the conclusion of his presentation Bryant suggested that people would have to use the available information to make up their own minds.

“We’re all big girls and boys, we can make up our own mind about things,” he said.

Councillor Dave Baker questioned when Merritt was scheduled for installation of the Smart Meters and Bryant estimated that it would take place in spring 2012. With this information, Baker agreed with Goetz that it would be better to wait for UBCM to make a decision.