The B.C. government has decided to let smart meter resisters opt out of the program, but those who do will probably be paying extra.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett said the province is willing to compromise with residents who fear negative health effects from the devices, which transmit usage data back to BC Hydro wirelessly.

But there are costs associated with opting out, and Bennett said it’s not fair to expect smart meter users to foot the bill.

“The 96 per cent of B.C. ratepayers who have taken or are taking a smart meter should not pay the additional cost of the four per cent who don’t want one,” Bennett said.

One option the province is considering is to install smart meters at every home, but turn off the devices’ wireless capability for residents worried about radiation.

The Minister said disabling the devices would cost money, as would turning them back on if new owners move in who want the wireless service.

On top of that, a BC Hydro employee would be forced to drive to the homes every month to read non-wireless meters.

“It’ll be up to the individuals to decide whether they want to pay the cost of having somebody come out and read their meter. They may be the only person in the neighbourhood that requires a manual reading,” Bennett said.

The government said the plans aren’t set in stone, and it’s too soon to say how much the extra cost could be.

There are currently about 60,000 homes without smart meters installed. The more people who decide to continue shunning the devices, the less additional costs the group would pay, Bennett said.

BC Hydro insists the meters are safer than talking on a cell phone; officials say the radio frequency output of a smart meter over 20 years is roughly the equivalent of a 30-minute phone call.

But Bennett said the government isn’t interested in pressuring residents who believe strongly that the devices could harm them or their families.

“It’s not our intention to offend people or bully people. There are people who have beliefs that I don’t necessarily agree with,” he said. “So we’re going to respect that, but they don’t get that exception without some cost.”

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Jina You