City explores water meter opt-outs

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St. Albertans concerned about the city’s new smart water meters will be able to opt out of the program – at a price.

The program, which began this month, aims to replace the city’s 21,292 analog water meters with digital ones by the end of 2018. The new meters can be read remotely instead of having meter readers walk onto residents’ properties to check the meter.

The meters also transmit readings over radiofrequency (RF) every 15 minutes so residents can read their water usage on a secure website.

RF waves, a form of electromagnetic radiation, are a source of concern for some residents who want to opt out of the program. The waves are similar to those emitted by other wireless devices, such as Wi-Fi and cellphones.

Organizations such as Health Canada and Alberta Health Services say there are no health risks associated with smart meters, and that the amount of RF these meters give off is well below federal human exposure limits. But residents like Carol Price, 72, aren’t convinced.

Price has scoured the Internet for information on smart meters and is concerned about the potential health impacts radiation from the meters might have. She plans to opt-out and the idea of paying a fee to opt out doesn’t faze her.

“I would think it’s worth it. What is the cost of ill health, quality of life? I can’t put a price tag on it,” she said.

The city has not yet nailed down the per-person cost of opting out. However, Kevin Cole, utilities director for the city, warns that opting out will cost residents at least $10 to $15 per month. That’s because the smart meters eliminate the need for in-person meter readers – but residents who opt out will still need to have their meters read in-person.

Because the program will take more than a year to finish, residents won’t be charged until 2019.

Cole said people who opt out will not have an RF transmitter attached to the outside of their houses. However, the city will still need to enter homes in order to upgrade or replace the water meter itself.

“The meter itself doesn’t have any RF device on it,” he said.

“If they wanted to opt out of the RF transmitter, that’s something that we are currently looking at.”

Cole said the city’s water bylaw obliges customers to provide access to the water meter.

“We will do everything possible to work with customers to find an amicable solution to their concerns,” he said.

Price said she wants to see studies done independently from industry on the safety of smart meters.

“Before we can make an informed decision, we need independent research proving the safety of the system that the city intends to install. We would not object to having the meter installed if it is not a radiation hazard,” she said.

So far, the city has received upwards of a dozen calls from residents looking to opt out of the program. Although opting out is something the city was prepared for, Cole said city staff are doing everything they can to inform people about the meters.

“(We) give them as much info as we can (so they) feel safe about the hardware we’ve selected there,” he said.

“If that’s something they don’t feel comfortable with, (opting out) is going to be an option for them.”

Smart meter concerns

Health Canada does not consider smart meters to be a public health risk due to their low levels of RF, but does note on its website that “as with any wireless device, some of the RF energy emitted by smart meters will be absorbed by anyone who is nearby.”

The amount of energy absorbed varies depending on how close you are to a smart meter.

Cellphones, Wi-Fi devices and baby monitors also use RF waves that get absorbed by the body.

Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 states acute exposure to high RF can cause tissue heating and nerve stimulation.

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April Hudson