THE VANCOUVER COURIER, DEC. 16
My late grandmother was born before the turn of the twentieth century in a northern European rural community without electricity. She retained a lifelong aversion to electrical devices. Even in her nineties, she would often ask my uncle to turn on the oven for her.
“Misoneism” is a term coined in 1886, not long before my grandmother’s birth, which means “a hatred, fear, or intolerance of innovation or change.” I suppose this dusty 19th century noun could be trotted out to describe my grandmother’s phobic attitude to ovens, or even the growing concern today about the long-term health effects of wireless networks, electromagnetic fields, and smart devices.
But even if you disregard the health debate on Smart Meters – which is still without a scientific consensus – you’re still left with some troubling questions about this new technology.
Gary Murphy, BC Hydro’s Chief Project Officer on Smart Meters, is quoted on bclocalnews.com that “the installation of the new meters will create approximately 350 jobs and generate $30 to $40 million in direct wages.” Hydro claims the installation will save British Columbians $520 million over the next two decades. If you subtract these figures from the billion dollar cost for the program, you’ll still left in the negative zone – especially if you factor in the interest this billion dollars of taxpayer money could make over twenty years.
With Canada exporting between a billion and 2 billion dollars worth of electricity each year, there seems little domestic need for this massive infrastructure project. Yet behind this program looms something called ‘energy convergence,’ in which Canadian electricity, oil and gas are integrated within the ‘North America security perimeter.’
Critics are concerned that BC Hydro, and possibly other interested parties, will know what appliances or electronic devices consumers are using and when, along with the times when homes are occupied. Not so, says Hydro of the encrypted data. At no time will the company have access to any customers’ real-time consumption information. “Only customers who choose to take advantage of in-home feedback devices will have access to real-time consumption data in the privacy of their own homes.” says Murphy.
That statement may provide a clue to the corporate rollout of these devices across the world, which ties in with the energy convergence model. Critics insist that after governments install smart meters by decree, consumers can be sold on a wide range of new smart appliances that are in constant communication with one another. The energy sector will have access to huge amounts of personal data that can then be sold to marketers.
“The key reason for smart meters is huge profits for the ICT (information and communications technologies) sector – IBM, Cisco, General Electric, Oracle, Itron, etc. In other words, the reason for smart meters is to sell smart meters, and then smart appliances,’ writes Toronto-based investigative reporter Joyce Nelson in an online article.
A billion dollars of our money and we have no say in the alteration to our home properties? A slated fifty percent rise in our Hydro rates over the next five years? Given the Bizarro World numbers, it’s hard not to get the sinking feeling that the Smart Meter program is the same old tune about the privatization of profit and the socialization of loss.
In one of his last acts of public largesse, Gordon Campbell removed Smart Meters from the oversight of the BC Utilities Commission, the body that has long been tasked to ensure that energy policies follow the best interests of ratepayers. A series of stories in the Tyee has outlined the incestuous relationships between BC Liberal insiders, the BC Hydro board, US-based investment firms and energy companies. There is little doubt the one-percenters are going to make out like bandits in this game.
MIT media critic Noam Chomsky has warned for years about ‘bringing the Third World home.’ For decades, international lending agencies have financed massive (and massively unnecessary) infrastructure projects in the developing world, turning sovereign states into easily busted piggy banks through onerous debt. Is the energy grid gold rush part of a more sophisticated, high-tech version of public wealth extraction? Or have I have inherited a touch of my grandmother’s ‘misoneism’?