Meter installations a fire risk, electrician says
Two days before Christmas, James Dreyer was arrested outside his Westsyde home after he allegedly assaulted B.C. Hydro staff attempting to change his electrical meter.
It wasn’t the first time Dreyer has had a brush with the law. A little over a year ago, the married father of four children was arrested a first time, ostensibly on the same charge. The charge was dropped that time and it was dropped again on Dec. 22.
Dreyer said the charges were laid for one purpose: To allow B.C. Hydro to go about its business even if it’s violating the rights of property owners. He said his only “offence” was blocking installation of a smart meter, a denial permitted in the province for the past two years as long as homeowners agree to pay a “legacy fee,” a surcharge of $32.50 a month.
A bonded electrician, Dreyer has been one of about 14,000 holdouts among B.C. residents who have resisted the Crown corporation’s five-year, $1.5-billion program to replace all analogue meters with newer smart meters equipped with radio transmitters. About 350 of those customers are in Kamloops.
“As a field safety representative, I’m responsible for the safety of the general public,” he said.
Analogue meters were safe, he maintains. The newer smart meters are not, particularly because of the manner in which most of them have been installed, said Dreyer, pointing to 40 fires in B.C. that he says are related to smart meters.
In November 2014, electrical service was first cut to Dreyer’s home when he refused to have the analogue meter changed. His business has a separate 200-amp service on the shop and he was able to keep the lights on for 2015.
Then, three days before Christmas 2015, Dreyer encountered a Hydro installer with a bucket truck outside his home. The installer told him he had a demolition permit to remove the meter from the Dreyer’s home, which was a fabrication. After he was told there was no demolition permit, the installer left in a huff.
“He was just the fall guy for the bigger issue.”
Returning from a walk the next day, Dreyer found two more Hydro staff parked outside his house. They would not tell him why they were there. At one point, he used his walking stick to prevent them from slamming the vehicle door, which led to the assault charge, later dropped.
“I wanted to prove, through an absolute screen, that this is where we’re at. Their actions showed here is the result of where your are: Your choice is to be arrested. I find that absolutely offensive.”
Safety is uppermost in his mind, though.
“The real story is not in the violation of my rights,” he said. “The real story is, why is the government not following its own rules in regard to electrical safety?”
Meter seal expired, B.C. Hydro says
B.C. Hydro spokesman Greg Alexis said they needed to replace the Dreyer’s meter because the Measurement Canada seal has expired.
“All B.C. Hydro meters are verified for accuracy by Measurement Canada, a federal consumer protection agency,” Alexis said in an email reply. “We are legally obligated to ensure our meters meet all Measurement Canada requirements and once the seal expires, we have to remove the meter. Replacing time expired meters is a standard operational activity at BC Hydro and something we have been doing for decades.”
There can also be significant penalties from Measurement Canada for leaving a meter in service beyond the seal expiration date, he noted.
“Since the customer is enrolled in the Meter Choices Program, he is still eligible to receive a non-communicating meter. The customer will only get a smart meter if they choose to have one installed.”
B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett stated emphatically two years ago that homeowners would not be forced to accept a smart meter as long as they paid the legacy fee to which they are paying under duress to date. That compromise came only after two years of resistance.
Dreyer believes the utility is using strong-arm tactics with those once used to force native children into residential schools. He is convinced that the real motive for forcing the switch is “meta data,” that smart meters give utilities the ability to obtain and sell private information.
He demonstrated the safety risk in his shop, producing a shower of sparks by separating two sets of wires under load to show what happens when meters are pulled off “hot” or under load. If the female metal receptors on the meter base are damaged during the meter swap, arcing will occur when load is applied and a fire could start in the meter base.
“What you’re seeing is what happens when B.C. Hydro removes a meter way under load,” he said.”That arc that happens, it’s in the meter base. The electrons are trying to leap the meter load. If the transformer on the main service line was switched off and all the breakers were turned off in your panel, it wouldn’t happen.”
Dreyer said the change-out practices don’t meet basic safety guidelines, and B.C. Hydro has no obligation to follow Canadian electrical code rules because they are the “electrical authority.” He maintains that smart meters B.C. Hydro has installed don’t meet with CSA standards. The meters were certified by the Underwriters Laboratory in Alberta, but only to save face after safety was questioned in Saskatchewan, he said. The Saskatchewan government’s smart meter program was suspended for public safety.
“This is the law,” Dreyer claimed referring to the Canadian Electrical Code. “We have to follow this. Every electrician in Canada has to follow this law in ever instance, but this is a monopoly,” he added, alluding to B.C. Hydro.
In most cases, where homeowners were not home when the meters were changed, there remained an electrical load on the meter.
“Who’s to say that meter is safe? How many lives is this worth? There have been over 40 fires documented in B.C.”
The newer meters do not have surge arrestors, a fact Dreyer pointed out to a Hydro contractor when the man showed up to try to replace the family’s analogue meter. The contractor said he hadn’t realized and gave up on that attempt. It wasn’t the last attempt, though.
If a fire should occur, the homeowner is responsible. B.C. Hydro holds no responsibility under their ever changing electrical tariff act, Dreyer noted.
Decision expected in class-action suit
The Westsyde resident has a manilla folder several inches thick with correspondence and information on B.C. Hydro’s switchover to smart meters. A decision is expected later this month in a class-action lawsuit represented by B.C. Citizens for Safe Technology, which argues that the forced installation of smart meters violates fundamental rights and that the devices pose significant health and safety concerns.
The Dreyers are not part of the suit, though they filed a claim of right on the basis of common law. After fighting the move to smart meters for several years, Dreyer is not convinced there is any gain to be achieved through the courts. He’s begun thinking in much broader terms about the potential of next-generation power.
B.C. Hydro defends the safety of its new meters, pointing out that more than 1.9 million smart meters have been installed in B.C. since 2011 and have been operating safely and reliably.
Alexis noted that CSA certifies products manufactured for consumer use such as electronics. Electricity grid equipment, including our old meters and smart meters, are not certified by CSA. Instead, all meters must pass stringent federal and North American standards set by Measurement Canada, American National Standards Institute, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the International Electrotechnical Commission.
“The new meters provide more surge protection to our customers than old meters and will send B.C. Hydro voltage alerts helping us ensure power is delivered safely.
“Our new meters were thoroughly tested against these standards before they were installed, and even though it wasn’t a requirement, we had our meter manufacturer certify the design of each new smart meter by an electrical engineer. Our meters must also pass rigorous quality assurance testing, conducted by our manufacturer and us, to ensure they’re safe, accurate and reliable.
“Further, all our meter installers are qualified and follow required safety protocol. We use qualified, independent contractors to exchange our meters, as well as B.C. Hydro employees.”
Alexis also cited an independent report showing there have been fewer residential structure fires associated with electricity in B.C. since Hydro started installing smart meters.