Gary Fielding is $845 poorer and is pointing his finger at the province’s power supplier for the unexpected financial blow.
“It fried the brain, basically,” Fielding said, holding up the microchip-laden central processing unit that controls both his oven and microwave.
An electrician since 1967, Fielding claims the wall-mounted oven unit was compromised due to a power surge when the old meter was removed while under “house” utility load.
But more than one month after the incident, Fielding is no closer to getting his costs covered. Corix Utilities, the company contracted by BC Hydro to install 1.8 million new wireless meters across the province, recently denied any liability.
“It sort of sickens me that these big corporations don’t take responsibility for their actions. They say, ‘No, go away, I’m not going to give you the time of day,’” Fielding says.
Fielding’s 18-year-old son Will Gale was home playing video games Nov. 15 when he heard a noise in the garage. Upon investigation, he discovered the family’s old BC Hydro meter was being replaced with a Smart Meter. The power went out for a few minutes, after which Gale discovered the microwave was not working. Fielding arrived home from work later that afternoon to discover the oven was also broken. All other household appliances and electronics were operating normally, he said.
Fielding faxed Corix the bill from Trail Appliances, which included repair costs, service calls and taxes. But Corix responded with a letter dated Dec. 6 from Jennifer Toledo, insurance administrator, denying liability in the claim.
“We are unable to provide reimbursement for any expenses that you may have incurred,” Toledo wrote.
The letter said Corix followed “all company safety and installation procedures” and the alleged property damage “was not caused by the recent smart meter installation.”
A spokesperson for Corix further explained the situation.
“I believe that our people investigated it and determined that the changeout of the meter was not the cause of the effect on the oven,” said Jack Touhey, vice-president of public and government affairs at Corix.
He said meter installers follow a prescribed procedure upon arrival at a home.
“They try to communicate with the homeowner or resident by knocking on the door, and if someone’s there, telling them that they’re about to change the meter,” he said.
“The meter changeout is just a few minutes and it’s really no different than what a temporary power outage would do or a quick flick of the main power switch off and on that a repair person might do,” he said.
Touhey said there have been rare cases when the power going off and on may be “the last leg” for an older appliance.
“Everything after the meter is owned by a homeowner and electrical systems can be at varying stages of age and capability, and this changeout may expose some of those issues,” he said.
He said Corix investigates all claims of damaged appliances.
“If, and it’s very rare, we believe that it’s caused by the meter changeout, unfortunately the repair cost is the customer’s responsibility.”
As an electrician, Fielding said he takes issue with the Smart Meter installation process. Though he did receive advance notice that meter installers would be in his area, he said no one knocked on his door upon arrival.
“You can imagine if somebody was on life support and they (installers) just come in and yank the meter, and the backup power isn’t there,” he said.
But Cindy Verschoor, spokesperson for BC Hydro’s Smart Metering Program, said meter exchanges are simple, routine procedures.
“There is actually no precedent that exchanging a meter is really any different than plugging or unplugging an appliance or even an outage,” she said.
To date, almost 78,000 meters have been installed in the Richmond/Delta area with another 24,000 to go.
While Verschoor would not speculate on the cause of Fielding’s oven failure, she said BC Hydro’s customer care team would investigate a claim like his “thoroughly.”
“I’m not aware of any cases where there’s been a failed appliance where we’ve reimbursed the customer,” she said.
Health and safety matters
Smart Meters have been criticized by some who say the wireless devices are an invasion of privacy and pose health and safety hazards.
One local resident sent a letter to BC Hydro and Corix refusing the installation of a Smart Meter on her property.
“It has the capability of being a surveillance system, used by you or other parties, which could violate my right to privacy,” wrote Tsawwassen’s Heather Colls, adding she has a right to protect her health from “a possible carcinogen, specifically radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” emitted by Smart Meters.
Tsawwassen’s George and Elisabeth Bradley have also attempted to block installation of a Smart Meter.
“We fear that it will contaminate our home with radio-frequency radiation which is a dangerous toxin that has been classified by the World Health Organization/International Agency for Research of Cancer as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans,’” they wrote.
Ladner resident and former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm last month asked Delta council to take action to stop the installation of Smart Meters in Delta until further research has been done.
“Why should we allow the provincial government and the BC Hydro to play Russian Roulette with our health and well being?” he wrote. “If the provincial government (ala BC Hydro) has a billion dollars to spend—there are many social needs, during a time of recession, that are far more in need than changing meters,” Vander Zalm wrote.
BC Hydro defends the safety of the wireless devices, saying residential Smart Meters are active for an average of one minute per day and the exposure to radio frequency from a Smart Meter, over its entire 20-year life span, is equal to a single 30-minute cell phone call.
BC Hydro says the new meters will allow power to be restored faster in the event of a power outage, and they are expected to save customers $1.6 billion in avoided costs and increased efficiencies over next 20 years.
The Clean Energy Act of May 2010 mandates that BC Hydro replace every old meter with a smart meter by the end of 2012, with or without the consent of the homeowner.
Meanwhile, Fielding believes the changeover is a “money grab” that could result in BC Hydro charging more during peak electricity usage hours.
He said he will continue to pursue the electricity giant to reimburse him for his oven repair costs.