Belco to run education campaign on smart meters
Belco is to run an education campaign on wireless devices at the forefront of the company's modernisation plans.
“Smart meters”, which record electricity consumption in detail and beam readings straight to the power company, are set to replace traditional meters across the island.
About 2,700 advanced meters have been installed in homes across Bermuda, according to the power firm and its parent company Ascendant Group.
Belco also moved to ease concerns raised by the activist group Move Bermuda, which has met twice with company officials over fears that the devices are a risk to health.
Move Bermuda has asked for the programme to be halted and the meters removed from homes.
Sean Durfy, chief executive of Ascendant, said that claimed threats from the technology were “a non-issue — and the benefits are outstanding”.
He added: “If we thought for any moment that we were doing something outside the norm, there's no way that this company would do that.”
Smart meters were approved by the Regulatory Authority, which issued a provisional licence to install them.
Mr Durfy said the meters used in Bermuda met the standards of the United States' Federal Communications Commission.
However he admitted the company's communication with the public about the change last summer had been inadequate.
A spokeswoman for Belco said smart meter installation started in the summer of 2015 with employees of the company.
Staff were asked to volunteer to have their home meters augmented with the digital devices.
The spokeswoman added that letters and brochures were sent out to the public but “the process didn't work” for 1500 homes, which left residents unaware of the change.
She said the company had met Move Bermuda twice and had fielded several questions, but was now set to step up a “robust marketing campaign”.
Mr Durfy added that the deployment of “advanced metering infrastructure” formed part of the $250 million capital plan to modernise the utility's operations. He added the pilot devices had “worked very well in testing”.
The smart meters measure and record electricity use about once an hour and beam the data to both the utility and the utility customer at least once a day.
They also report outages, and allow the company to spot homes left in the dark after other residences have electricity restored in the wake of power cuts.
Mr Durfy said Belco planned to connect the advanced meters to its online portal, so consumers can view their electricity consumption in detail — information that will help them cut their bills.
He added that advanced metering would also help Belco improve its own infrastructure.
Mr Durfy pointed out that smart meters are common in the United States and many other countries.
He added that customers will be able to opt out from the new meters, although a charge would be imposed for manual meter reading.
Peggy Burns, who had a smart meter removed from her St David's home in January, insisted all the devices should be recalled. Ms Burns said she was “in the midst of more than 40 smart meters” because of her neighbours and had developed symptoms ranging from a dry cough to sleeplessness.
She added: “I have begged the present government to please order their removal, and to no avail.”
Ms Burns claimed the “pulse” signals sent out by the meters were harmful but were said to be safe “on face-value” in Bermuda by the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Health and the Regulatory Authority.
Ms Burns contacted Arthur Firstenberg, an American activist who has campaigned against wireless technology for more than 20 years.
Mr Firstenberg claimed that the radio emissions were “much more harmful than anybody knows”.
He said: “People can hear it — they get these piercing, high-pitched sounds in their heads.”
Mr Firstenberg, who heads a pressure group the Cellular Phone Task Force, added: “It's not a matter of belief. They affect everybody whether you know it or not.”
He said the devices were the cause of chronic disease and added to a growing backdrop of “ambient radiation from all different sources that are doing damage to the environment as well as people”.
Ms Burns has filed complaints with several agencies about the smart meters.
The Department of Consumer Affairs said earlier this month that the devices “are approved by the US FCC and have met the radio frequency safety requirements which the Bermuda Regulatory Authority recognises”.
Belco added the meters are well below the regulatory limit for RF transmitting devices and that devices like video games, baby monitors and mobile telephones all had higher radio emission rates.