Smart Meters to Nip Illegal Practice in the Bud

One of British Columbia’s biggest underground industries could find itself short-circuited by a BC Hydro technology upgrade.

Hydro is moving ahead with a plan to replace mechanical electricity meters with smart meters across the province that are expected to make it a lot tougher for indoor marijuana growers to conceal their operations.

Smart meters represent the first major upgrade on conventional analog electricity meters in a half century. Hydro last month issued a request for proposals for companies to bid on installation of new, digital meters as well as the accompanying hardware and software, to serve all of its customers by 2012.

The principal benefit of the upgrade is to allow Hydro to better manage its electrical grid.

For example, Hydro will receive instantaneous reports of blackouts rather than waiting for customers to phone them with the information.

However, Hydro is touting detection of electricity theft as a significant side benefit for its customers.

Electricity theft was estimated in 2006 to cost Hydro $30 million per year — which would work out to at least $40 million with today’s two-tier electricity rate — equivalent to a one-per-cent rate hike.

“At the market value of [purchasing]new energy supply, the cost to our legitimate customers would be significantly more — even if the total quantity of gigawatt hours stolen has not increased since 2006,” said Cindy Verschoor, Hydro smart meter program communications leader, in an e-mail.

“The smart metering and infrastructure program will help to identify theft where and when it is occurring and mitigate impacts on legitimate ratepayers.”

Illicit marijuana production in B.C. has been estimated to have an annual retail value of between $4 billion and $5 billion.

Conventional wisdom holds that residential-based grow operators have either tampered with their existing meters or rewired nearby distribution power lines in order to mask the large volume of power they need to run the lights that serve their indoor nurseries.

In a recent interview, a senior executive with a B.C.-based company that has already installed millions of smart meters for utilities around North America said that its workers immediately detect illegal electricity consumption when they attach the new meters to the outside of homes and commercial businesses.

It’s a side-effect of the installation, Corix Utilities (U.S.) vice-president and general manager Kevin Meagher said.

“We are verifying first of all . . . is the system is safe? Is that little box on the side of your house safe? Is it grounded? Are there the right voltages based on the [customers’] records and so forth? That’s all part of the installation process. We are testing all of that,” Meagher said.

“How we find these [illegal]things is that we will get a backfeed that tells me there is power coming from somewhere else on this premise through the system. That’s usually an indicator that there is a grow house or something else on it.”

Hydro won’t divulge specific details on how smart meters will detect theft, but Verschoor acknowledged that the Crown corporation expects that tampered meters will be discovered by contractors during the initial installation process.

“While evidence of electricity theft will be reported to BC Hydro, the smart meter installers are not going to be conducting investigations or intruding on customer privacy,” Verschoor said.

“In general, theft detection will involve accurately measuring how much electricity is going into an area [such as a neighbourhood]and that data will be compared to metered consumption from customers in the area.

“This is akin to a retail chain comparing how much inventory is delivered to each store by how many units are sold at the cash registers in that store.”

She added that the new system will give Hydro better “visibility” of its grid.

“We can determine sources of energy loss from a variety of causes, including theft.”

Discussion board participants on cannabis culture sites across the English-speaking world have been expressing a degree of paranoia about the new technology, with similar meter installations proceeding in many countries.

Advocates of legalizing marijuana, meanwhile, think the grow operations most likely to be detected by the new meter technology are family enterprises.

“Prohibition breeds creativity for getting around obstacles and law enforcement, so there will be ways for large-scale growers to go undetected,” Jodie Emery said in an e-mail.

Emery’s husband is Marc Emery, an outspoken advocate of pot legalization now serving five years in a U.S. penitentiary for a mail order business that shipped marijuana seeds from Canada to the United States.

“They can just get generators, or buy entire gas stations (as we’ve seen done in the past), or use new LED lighting technology, or grow smaller crops in more locations, which actually spreads the problem out and makes it harder to detect,” Jodie Emery said.

“The most dangerous aspect of the smart meter program is that it means small-scale, mom-and-pop indoor gardens will be more likely to be shut down, whereas organized crime can afford the techniques and technology to avoid detection (in the ways I outlined above). So it puts more of the cannabis market into the hands of gangs, and out of small-scale personal gardeners.

“No matter what BC Hydro does with smart meters, grow ops will never go away unless cannabis prohibition ends.”

– Article from Vancouver Sun.



  1. Anonymous on

    Brave New World

  2. Dale allo on

    i think thats the main deal with these meters is it’ll make it easier to spot people who steal the energy im not sure how they’ll do that though. perhaps there will be a meter for each street as well and they can average in how much energy comes to a street and how much people are paying for and see if more is coming and trace it down.

  3. budoracle on

    I have always paid for any services I have used.

    Have you ever noticed that they make no claim as to what you use the electricity for. All they really want is that you pay for what you use and that you use it safely. Beyond that hydro has no jurisdiction. Even if you spread out a 26 light show over 4 meters and the resultant bill is a whopper. I have watched Hydro come with their horseshoe clip to two different locations I rented way back in the 90’s. I was as blatantly honest as I am today. The RCMP were true to our handshake “I turted the RCMP.” They reneged though, and facked with me later during the Mayerthorpe hate crime incident google “Mayerthorpe_hate_crime.avi”. After, google “I trusted the RCMP> another true tale,” I was motivated to test out that Superintendent’s handshake and his words “you leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone.” Since those days of $1000+ hydro bills (always scrupulously paid on time) I continue to be one of their respected customers.

    Thieves get respect from no one. Judges respect sincere people who call the police when assaulted during a political demonstration, neighbors respect honest people who are truly concerned for their fellows and call 911 when a woman is getting beat up no matter what they do for a living. People who demonstrate an ethical moral bottom line get respect from many facets of the community.

    The establishment wants you to take up the mantle of “criminal” when you become a gardener and break as many laws as possible so that their poor policing might find one little hook to sink into you legally. My personal strategy is to repel that label in every, and any, possible way via my actions to the contrary, becoming an example of good citizenship, not criminality. Hence the store was a logical, safe progression if the demonstration sale at Victory square caused such a ruckus.

    This is only my personal Philosophy and works for me, because destiny seems to have handed me these occasions to have tested it out on. Others must follow the path that they have been handed.

  4. Anonymous on

    Change is good but best when happens over night.

    If you haven’t noticed canadian laws are getting tighter, while America pulls out the red carpet.

    America secretly running it’s government on satanism.

    There isn’t anything for sure in the world except death.
    It’s like satan has taken form on earth, and is holding a realm out this life straight to hell, by means of death.
    And there is oh so many ways the government takes death as an innocent homicide.

    And you ever hear of illuminati, and a eye of hell what see’s everything.

    Well when I watch the news I feel like those american ladies ancestors were so in touch with their maggick. That from you watching news channel while their on television, it’s like their own way to watch you at home, and put random bullsit in peoples heads.

  5. Anonymous on

    actually, there are plenty of growers out there stealing power. its not a good idea.
    not so many do it that just run a light or two. if you get caught growing, you face two penalties so its mostly hard guys that will do both.

    they do it for one main reason, because they fear high power bills will draw attention.
    hydro agreeing to telling police about higher usage was a VERY bad decision.

    it would be a worse case for power companies to advertise that these meters will show up larger legitimate payers.
    some might steal to save on power, but its a small expense really.

    so they are advertising or warning that people that are stealing can now be undone.

    this runout of smart meters will mean installers are inside the box and at the back, that means they will see suspicious wiring, and as they say, they can meter what goes in and whats getting read as going in. while they are there. they may also find the old meters have been tampered with.

    so, you have smart meters, you have smart growers. people move with the need.
    those stealing will just undo their pirate wiring and then redo it after the installer has come by. it is NOT the case that smart meters will be used to identify when someones plant light comes on and goes off.
    so many people have things that use power like that.

    as for stolen power, if they dont recognise it on the meters rolling out.
    the power company will need to work out that some power is missing from that street or neighbourhood and then have to idenitify which residence it is. they could do that always. maybe now faster.

    as far as big growers, they will hide behind power consuming businesses or generate. word will spread IF this brings undone the bigger growers.
    BC hydro would have to be silly to dob in people that are paying for larger amounts of power.
    if they take down the small people and word got round what was happening, it would just mean real criminal types will be involved. the plants still need growing. as always, this is the trend because of busts on mom and pop growers.

    with things like pool pumps and heaters etc, people often use those on timers to take advantage of the cheaper off peak rates. this aids power companies to make power output even and lessen strain on generators and their workforce. they can run similar loads 24 hours a day instead of a massive load when everyone is at home cooking and getting warm. this is the main reason why smart meters have been made. to ask people , or get people through their pocket, to use more power in the off peak times and less during peak.
    the power company sets the rates so they dont lose money by offering cheaper rates in off peak.

    they did not make these smart meters to bust some pot head/grower.

  6. Dale allo on

    maybe the smart meters will be able to detect the regular schedule of light timers that every 12 hours a similar high amount of energy is pulled for 12 hours. not enough information to get a warrant though but enough to raise suspitions to probe further in an investigation. and for the people who steal power they deserve to get caught and punished.

  7. Roland on

    “Conventional wisdom holds that residential-based grow operators have either tampered with their existing meters or rewired…”. Conventional wisdom is wrong. Tampering/rewiring is dumb and dangerous. Small-scale growers don’t use enough to have to hide it, and large-scale growers use generators. *Dumb* growers get caught. This is pure propaganda…’those wacky potheads won’t hesitate to steal and endanger your family.’ I call BS on the Vancouver Sun.

  8. Roland on

    “Conventional wisdom holds that residential-based grow operators have either tampered with their existing meters or rewired…”. Conventional wisdom is wrong. Tampering/rewiring is dumb and dangerous. Small-scale growers don’t use enough to have to hide it, and large-scale growers use generators. *Dumb* growers get caught. This is pure propaganda…’those wacky potheads won’t hesitate to steal and endanger your family.’ I call BS on the Vancouver Sun.