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NSP working to dispel misinformation about smart meters as installation gets underway

A smart meter is shown in this file photo. The president of Nova Scotia Power says she’s confident the smart meter technology the utility will roll out to its customers across the province will work in rural areas of Nova Scotia.
A smart meter is shown in this file photo. - Contributed

Nova Scotia Power has started the installation of new smart meters across the province, a two-year process that it says will result in technology that will benefit the company and customers.

When the network is ready to be turned on in 2021, it will allow customers to access information on their energy consumption, notify the power company when power to a home goes out, and enable remote connection or disconnection of electricity without an on-site service call. The company will be able to get information on power consumption for billing purposes without having to have someone come to each customer and read the meter.

It's also working to allay concerns that there are dangers involved.

Introducing new technologies can sometimes cause doubts, utility spokeswoman Patti Lewis said, and the company wants to keep the lines of communication open with customers so it can understand what concerns people may have and address them.

She said if people do have questions, they should ask and not just take for granted negative information they hear from other sources.

Posters seen in a Wolfville coffee shop recently were titled “Are smart meters the new smoking?” and featured a vintage cigarette ad that had a baby and mother, with the message extolling the benefit of the brand.

Text on the poster claimed the smart meters are risky for children, and pushes people to opt out of the new devices.

No one was available from the group, but its web page claims, among other things, that the radio frequencies from the meters and the power they use can cause health issues, that the meters can monitor what devices are being used in the home and when, that they can be hacked, will cause increased costs for consumers and could catch fire.

It said it bases its claims on Youtube videos and Google searches, and falsely states that the meters do not meet Underwriters Laboratory standards.

Steve Pothier, who is in charge of the smart meter project for Nova Scotia Power, said safety is the top priority of the company.

“(It) is every day, it always will be. We would never put our customers or our employees at risk with anything we're doing, and the rollout of smart meters is no exception.”

He said the company is confident in the safety of the meters and the program, and that the radio frequency exposure falls well below the threshold set by Health Canada.

Health Canada says on its website that the signals emitted by smart meters are of relatively low power, similar to cellphones and Wi-Fi equipment, and that the energy from smart meters is typically transmitted at a much greater distance from the human body. It said the result is very low exposure, much like exposure to AM or FM radio broadcast signals.

While there were some fires attributed to smart meters in western Canada several years ago, Pothier said the problems were linked to a specific meter used in Saskatchewan that was provided by a small manufacturer.

He said Nova Scotia Power isn't using meters from that company, and the ones it is using are from one of the largest manufacturers in the world, which has no cases of fires reported.

“We're very confident that the smart meter is not a fire risk in any way, shape, or form.”

Pothier said the network has state-of the-art security and data is encrypted, but there is no personally identifiable information being stored or transmitted.

Because they will save money for the company, Pothier said, they will not cost customers more, and that it's false that the energy that the meters use to operate is billed to the customer.

He said Nova Scotia Power is one of the last jurisdictions to install the devices, which are already used in 70 per cent of homes in the country.

Customers will be able to see their energy usage in 15-minute intervals. “It's a game-changer for customers to be able to go online and see how much energy they are using day-by-day, and to be able set up bill alerts ... if they reach a certain limit or are concerned about what their bill is going to be that month.”

He said there is an opt-out option for people who don't want the smart meters, but because that will require someone to read the meter for billing, there is a surcharge. He said about 1,000 customers have made the request to opt out.

Anyone making that request is contacted to make sure they have all the information to make that decision, and the company hopes to keep the number of customers who opt out below two per cent.

More information on the program can be found at nspower.ca/smartmeters

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