The British Columbia government is preparing to turn down the power on its high-voltage plan to install smart meters in every home and building across the province.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett said on Thursday that public concerns about the government's ongoing $1-billion smart-meter installation program have prompted the province to offer alternatives to the once-mandatory program, but it will cost extra cash.
Mr. Bennett said he is responding to public pressure about the meters that 60,000 people have refused to have installed over concerns that include the possible dangers of high-frequency radio waves, which help transmit data to BC Hydro computers and allow consumers to monitor their energy use daily.
"People who want to opt out can," he said. "They will not be forced to have a smart meter, but they are going to have to pay the costs."
Mr. Bennett said people could have a digital meter installed with the radio transmission turned off, or keep the old analog meter, but both options involve more costs because they have to be monitored and maintained by hydro workers, while the smart meters are less labour-intensive.
He said the extra fees associated with radio-off or analog-meter have yet to be established, but estimated they will start at about $20 extra a month, plus other maintenance fees. Mr. Bennett said the B.C. Utilities Commission will review the rates.
He said the government's decision to provide installation options does not mean it is backing off its earlier tough stand to force smart meters on all British Columbians.
"Bottom line here is we are absolutely committed to having a smart grid and smart meters are a big part of that, obviously," he said. "We are well on our way. We have 96 per cent of British Columbians with smart meters today."
Mr. Bennett said smart meters are an upgrade of the province's electricity grid that aims to reduce costs and theft, and encourage conservation, and can automatically detect outages.
Opposition New Democrat energy critic John Horgan said the Liberals' hard-line approach has failed.
"We had a systematic campaign for two-and-a-half years saying every home must have a meter, and now they are admitting the obvious, that it's just not true," he said. "There are people who legitimately are anxious about the technology and we should have respected that from the start."
Smart meter opponents called Mr. Bennett's move a delaying tactic.
Citizens for Safe Technology spokeswoman Una St. Clair said the fine print in the announcement indicates that smart meters will eventually replace worn-out analog meters.
"We believe this is a ploy only to get the remaining smart meter holdouts to take a smart meter of some kind," she said. "This is not a free and open choice. Sooner or later, you are going to get a smart meter."
Mr. Bennett said 1.8 million smart meters have already been installed on B.C. properties.