Sunday April 19 2015
Laval's English newspaper since 1993.
Journal anglais de Laval depuis 1993.

Will Laval refuse Hydro Quebec’s ‘smart meters’?

‘What we ask is that we have the right to maintain our analogue meters,’ says wireless meter opponent Véronique Riopel

After the east-central Montreal neighbourhood of Villeray made headlines all over Quebec last year when many of its residents decided to take a stand against Hydro Quebec’s new wireless “smart meters,” will Laval now do the same?

Resisting the meter
About 50 people gathered in a church in Duvernay on Oct. 23 to hear organizers of a growing resistance movement that calls itself Laval Refuse. They stand firmly opposed to the Quebec-owned electric company’s plans to implement the new wireless electric usage counters. They were tested out last year in a pilot project in Villeray and a few other communities in various parts of the province.
According to Véronique Riopel, a Laval resident who is helping lead the movement and who claims to suffer from side effects from too much wireless current in the air, many recently-constructed buildings all over the province have already been fitted with thousands of first-generation wireless meters which are a little less powerful than the newer version.

But Hydro Quebec is planning on implementing wide-scale a second-generation wireless meter that won’t require a human meter reader to make the rounds in neighbourhoods, gathering meter readouts with a handheld receiver as he passes up your street.

A wireless menace?
The latest generation of wireless meters will be networked to connect to wireless “routers” set up in strategically-high places throughout neighbourhoods, such as church steeples or near the top of tall buildings. These powerful wireless hubs are what worries opponents, as does the number of meters installed in multi-unit residential buildings – often right in the midst of where people are living. The amount of radio-frequency they emit increases exponentially the more there are wireless meters.
“What we ask is that we have the right to maintain our analogue meters,” Riopel said in an interview with the Laval News. An analogue meter is what most people still have in their homes. It’s that box on the wall outside your house (or sometimes inside; in apartment blocks it’s often in the basement). It has a number of small dials and a horizontally-placed disc which spins at various rates of speed depending on how much power your home is using at a given time.

While these older meters are considered virtually obsolete and Hydro plans to gradually replace them all with digital and wireless equivalents, according to the anti-wireless crowd they are rugged and typically last for up to 40 years, compared to the new meters which are said to last only about 15 years.

The router revolution
Hydro Quebec is not the only company in the province which has decided to invest big time in wireless technology in order to maximize the efficiency of its operations. Companies doing business with hundreds of thousands of clients for anything from natural gas to cable television and Internet service are discovering that it’s easier to install a wireless router atop a utility pole as an alternative to having an employee working for wages.

As such, routers are becoming a common sight along many streets. It’s a matter of recognizing them by their shape. They often don’t resemble anything you’d normally see fixed to a utility pole, like electrical and telecommunications transformers. Sometimes shaped like an oval box, a router will often also have a short antenna sprouting from it. You can add to all these industrial-grade routers the ones that a growing number of people have set up in their homes to facilitate wireless Intenet access.

Saying no not an option
But while you can choose or not to install a wireless Internet router in your home, Riopel notes that no one can opt out of having a Hydro Quebec wireless meter since everyone uses electricity. And in fact, at this stage Hydro is only allowing subscribers to say no and keep the old analogue meter if they pay the company a fairly hefty added fee.

When you take all these hubs and routers into consideration, it adds up to a tremendous amount of radio-frequency energy in the atmosphere and on a certain wavelength that wireless opponents argue is not healthy to humans because they say it interferes with the natural electrical impulse in our bodies. Hydro Quebec and most mainstream scientists and electrical experts dismiss the critics’ concerns about the amount of radio energy in question as scientifically unfounded.

Electro-sensitivity symptoms
However, supporters of the anti-wireless cause in Laval and other parts of Quebec continue to gather evidence and testimonials from persons who claim to have fallen ill or to have had significant side-effects. These include migraines and heart palpitations which came on soon after a wireless meter from Hydro Quebec was installed where they live. They claim the symptoms went away when they removed the suspected source.

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