An Okanagan woman who has been in the dark for two weeks since her power was cut off has triggered threats of a class-action law suit against BC Hydro.
BC Hydro stopped power to Debbie Stutters's home in Peachland after she refused to accept a wireless smart meter and instead installed a wired, analog meter. Citing safety concerns, BC Hydro pulled the plug on her home.
Two provincial groups that have been fighting BC Hydro's switch to smart meters in British Columbia announced Monday they are gathering signatures in the hope of taking the Crown corporation to court.
"This particular case, cutting off the power, was just the final straw," said Sharon Noble, director of the Coalition to Stop Smart Meters.
Ms. Noble said after hearing about the situation, her group decided to join forces with Citizens for Safe Technology. The two organizations hope to get a class action lawsuit approved, which will allow them to challenge BC Hydro's authority to force smart meters on people.
"We were already preparing the class-action suit and we said now is the time," Ms. Noble said. "You know, this [power shut off] is just unconscionable."
Ms. Stutters, who said she is wearing extra socks and large sweaters to stay warm, is not going to be one of those signing on to the class action.
"I do support the class action," she said. "But I have spoken with a lawyer and I am going to seek an injunction against BC Hydro myself. I simply don't want to be involved in two legal cases."
Ms. Stutters said she and her husband bought an analog meter and had an electrician supervise its installation when she began experiencing headaches after BC Hydro put in a smart meter.
She said the analog equipment is safe.
But BC Hydro spokeswoman Cindy Verschoor said BC Hydro couldn't take that chance.
"The last thing we ever want to do is discontinue service. But in this case we really had no choice. It was a very dangerous situation and if anything went wrong Hydro would be liable if we knowingly supplied power through a meter that was purchased on the Internet," she said.
Ms. Verschoor said if the class action suit does go ahead, BC Hydro will work through the legal system.
But she said smart meters are safe and the vast majority of B.C. homes – about 95 per cent – have now been switched over.
BC Hydro began switching to smart meters in July, 2011, and since then has exchanged about 1.8 million. About 80,000 haven't yet been installed because of customer objections.
Ms. Verschoor said BC Hydro is trying to work with those holdouts to persuade them to change.
Ms. Noble, however, said the class-action initiative comes after years of frustrating clashes with BC Hydro over smart meters.
"People have been threatened with cutting off power, with bills of $10,000, with all sorts of things. They've been tricked, they've been deceived, their requests have been ignored. And it's just one thing after another for two years," she said.
She said in the past the two organizations gathered petitions with nearly 40,000 signatures from people opposed to smart meters, but even that failed to slow the BC Hydro program.
"We're just tired … of having our civil rights ignored. And they have left us with no option," she said of the case, which must get approved by the courts as a class action before it can proceed.
Ms. Noble said those joining the suit will be asked to pay $100 each toward the legal fees.
"We're hoping to file very, very soon but I don't have a definite timeline yet," she said.