British Columbia·Updated

First Nation blocks smart meter installation

The Lower Nicola Indian Band has padlocked the remaining analog electricity meters on its reserve, after early adopters of BC Hydro's smart meters reported health concerns.

Signs and padlocks on analog meters tell installers not to update devices

The Lower Nicola Indian Band, near Merritt, B.C., wants to stop BC Hydro from installing smart meters on buildings on its reserve.

Many of its members are concerned the smart meters will make them sick.

BC Hydro is in the process of replacing more than 1.8 million analog meters throughout the province with smart meters, which are capable of providing hourly information about electricity consumption.

Members of the Lower Nicola Indian Band have posted these signs to tell BC Hydro installers not to change their analog meters to smart meters. (Contributed by: Joe Shuter)

The band's public works manager Hyrum Peterson says his home was one of the first on the reserve to get a smart meter, and his family started getting headaches right around the same time.

"It seems fairly obvious to myself and my family that we have been subjected to the smart meter on our house and I believe strongly that our health has been affected," said Peterson.

"Cold flu-like symptoms that just don't seem to abate. Severe migraine headaches when they wake up in the morning."

Band padlocks analog meters

Now he and other band members want to make sure no more smart meters are installed.

The band has put padlocks on all the analog meters on public buildings, and provided its members with a sign they can post telling installers not to change their meter, said the band's executive director Arnie Narcisse.

"It's up to the individual home owners to post those notices, and for the most part, the majority of them have."

Customers can move smart meters, says BC Hydro 

BC Hydro expects the changeover from analog to digital smart meters will be complete by the end of this year.

But the company has met with fierce opposition from thousands of customers who worry the new devices are a health hazard, and are an invasion of privacy. 

The company insists smart meters are safe, as does B.C.'s provincial health officer.

BC Hydro spokesperson Cindy Verschoor says smart meters are perfectly safe. (CBC)

BC Hydro says it won't force the technology on customers if they oppose — at least for now — and will work with concerned customers.

"We will hold off installing their meter while we work with them to address whatever questions they have remaining," said BC Hydro spokeswoman Cindy Verschoor. 

"They also have the opportunity to have their meter moved to another location on their property, the meter box is the property of the customer, so they can locate that wherever they like, and that would obviously be at their expense."

The utility estimates the meters will save consumers $1.6 billion over the next 20 years by preventing the loss and theft of power.

With files from the CBC's Brady Strachan