Ukee condo owner faces power cut-off over bill dispute

Marlene Macfarlane’s Ucluelet condos could soon be cut off from power if she does not pay a past-due bill associated with keeping her analog electricity meter.

Macfarlane refused to allow BC Hydro to install smart meters on her two Edgewater units and became one of 19,380 (according to BC Hydro statistics) to keep the analog meter.

Last year, BC Hydro announced anyone who wished to keep their analog meter could do so but would be charged $32.40 a month for the privilege.

This fee kicked in on Dec. 1 and Macfarlane has consistently refused to pay the roughly $64.80 a month BC Hydro is charging her to keep her two analog meters, which means she’s facing 10 months, or roughly $630, worth of unpaid fees.

“I have paid my regular Hydro fee, the one that I contracted for. I never contracted for this other $70

a month,” she said. “Now they’ve told me that they’re shutting it off.”

Macfarlane splits her time between Regina, Sask., and Ucluelet and said one of her two Edgewater units is vacant with the power off while the other holds a fridge and a deep-freeze.

She believes BC Hydro’s smart meters emit dangerous radio waves, and is now considering selling her Edgewater units because many in the building accepted smart meters.

“They need to move those smart meters because they make me sick,” she said, adding she has had difficulty proving the meters are dangerous. “You can’t see a radiowave, a fire you can see, but the health effects of the radio waves in order to start proving that is very difficult.”

She said communication from BC Hydro has been

lacking. “Right now it’s either pay (the legacy fees) or we cut it off, that’s their communication,” she said. “I’m not the only one who can’t afford to pay this kind of fee, there’s a lot of older people, especially who are retired and on fixed incomes, and they can’t afford it.”

She believes it is unfair to charge customers to keep their old analog meters and sees it as a smart-meterpushing tactic.

“It’s more than bullying,” she said. “What do you call the sort of government where they are trying to

enforce these smart meters on people who don’t want it?” Macfarlane plans to arrive in Ucluelet next week and is Hydworried about what she will walk into.

“I’m expecting, this time when I come, I will have no lights, no hot water, no internet…no fridge (and) no deep freeze,” she said. “I’m not looking forward to that one little bit.”

BC Hydro spokesperson Ted Olynyk told the Westerly that the monthly $32.40 charge is needed to recover the costs of maintaining the resources necessary to keep the analog system running.

“Trucks, equipment, people, they have to be retained to read the meters and manually put the data back into the billing system, whereas the new system is read remotely and inputted remotely,” he said.

“There’s also billing infrastructure as well, it’s not just going out there reading the meters and plugging it in the new system…Setting up and maintaining a separate meter and billing process, that’s we’re doing when we have the old legacy meter and the new system.”

The $32.40 monthly charge adds up to about $388 a year, a not insignificant dent in an average household’s budget, but Olynyk noted the fee could be avoided by accepting a smart meter.

“That’s your choice,” Olynyk said. “(If) you want to retain a certain piece of equipment, you have the right to make that choice, but there’s a cost for that choice, just like everything in our world.”

He added customers who accepted a smart meter should not be subsidizing those who chose to keep

their analogs.

Even if Macfarlane allows BC Hydro to install a smart meter at this point, she is still on the hook for the past 10 months of missed legacyfee payments.

“It’s just like going to a restaurant, the grocery store, to Shaw, or to Telus. If you’ve incurred charges, you have to pay your bill in full, as with the rest of us,” Olynyk said. “Our disconnection policy has not changed as a result of the smart meter program…If they don’t maintain payment they may be subject to late payment charges and then their accounts could eventually be passed on to collections or risk disconnection.”

He added smart meters passed reviews by the BC Centre for Disease Control.

“There are no health concerns for the new meter,” he said. “It’s a Wi-Fi device that communicates less than a minute a day.”

reporter@westerlynews.ca