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File photo from July 5, 2011, in Burnaby, B.C. - Gary Murphy, Chief Project Officer for Smart Metering at BC Hydro, opens a box containing smart meter units which will be installed in homes around BC in the coming months. The smart meters wirelessly transmit data back to BC Hydro.

Brett Beadle/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Hydro says it won't install smart meters if households don't want them, even after the B.C. Liberal government insisted for years that the program was mandatory.

In a statement Wednesday, B.C. Hydro's smart-meter spokesman, Greg Alexis, said the utility would work with customers who don't want the new meters, but did not make clear whether it would install them only if the households agreed.

Mr. Alexis did not return calls seeking elaboration.

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The B.C. NDP immediately saw an election motive to the reversal of a program the B.C. Liberals have long said was irreversible. Energy critic John Horgan suggested the government had changed course to eliminate a political irritant as the May, 2013, provincial vote looms.

"I believe the B.C. Liberals recognized they would have a significant fight on their hands, so said: 'No. We won't do it until after the election,' " Mr. Horgan said. "[The Liberals] don't have a lot of votes to spare. Why would they further alienate themselves from a great swath of the electorate?"

B.C. Hydro said about 85,000 customers, provincewide, have refused the installation of one of the devices, which are supposed to more accurately monitor electrical usage to conserve electricity, but it was not immediately clear how the utility would proceed.

Wednesday's statement reinforced an opinion-editorial by Energy Minister Rich Coleman last week, circulated by the government, that hydro would not install a new smart meter without a homeowner's consent. Mr. Coleman said 1.74 million smart meters have been installed, leaving the province 85,000 meters short of completing the $1-billion initiative launched in 2007 by then-premier Gordon Campbell in what was described as a bid to better manage the distribution of power.

In the years since, the government has been steadfast in saying the program was non-negotiable despite waves of criticism from skeptics about the devices, and their possible health effects.

"Smart meters are here. We're going to do them. We're going to do them right," Mr. Coleman insisted in a 2011 interview.

Mr. Coleman's office said he would not be available to comment, but instead referred to his column.

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Mr. Horgan said an NDP government would refer the file to the British Columbia Utilities Commission, an independent energy regulator, seeking its guidance on how to satisfy the members of the community who do not want the devices.

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