BC Hydro will not say whether B.C. residents are able to opt out of its controversial Smart Meter program, a frustrating proposition for consumers who distrust the devices and say it's their democratic right to refuse them.

Ross and Sylvia Dunseith, who live in an Abbotsford apartment building, are concerned about the bank of 27 hydro meters that shares a wall with their dining room.

Sylvia is not thrilled about the potential health consequences of living so close to a bank of smart meters.

"It's serious because as we get older we have to be careful about what health risks we have. And I mean, it's just another thing to worry about," she told CTV's Steele on Your Side.

BC Hydro claims the meter walls are completely safe and communicate for mere seconds a day.

"In the case of a meter bank, the meters all work together and so what that means is the maximum power output for a meter bank is actually the equivalent of two meters," said Cindy Verschoor, the communications manager of the smart meters program.

But many B.C. residents are still not convinced of the safety, and have tried to block the meters from transmitting. One Vancouver Island man built a metal ring around his unit to prevent it from being switched out. Others have refused to allow their installation, a subject that seems to make BC Hydro uncomfortable.

"The meters are a necessary upgrade to the electricity grid," said Verschoor after being asked whether British Columbians have the right to refuse the new meter.

When asked if the installation is non-negotiable, Verschoor responded again: "They are a necessary upgrade to the electricity grid."

When pressed again about whether consumers can legally refuse the new meter, Verschoor said: "You know, we've got a lot of runway left before we get to the point where we have to make decisions on that."

Micheal Vonn, policy director for the BC Civil Liberties Association, said citizens have a right to answers on these kinds of questions – and that BC Hydro is being deliberately obtuse.

"The obfuscation or the confusion about this, and the constant reiteration of, well, ‘we say,' simply doesn't wash. Citizens don't have to trust their government. That's not what democracy is about," she said.

The Dunseiths wholeheartedly agree.

"I think people should actually have an option of saying whether they wish to have this or not," Sylvia Dunseith said.

BC Hydro said only one per cent of residents are resisting the smart meter conversion. Those people are being visited by a BC Hydro team that tries to convince them the meters are safe.

Hydro is giving these residents a bit of a grace period, but says by the end of this year all residents have to be on board the smart meter program. They claim the old and new technologies are not compatible. A total of 1.8 million meters will be installed in homes and businesses by December.

California's public utilities commission recently ruled that residential customers who are concerned about the safety of smart meters should be allowed to opt out of its program, but at their own expense.

Customers would be subject to a $90 initial fee and then a monthly charge of $10 for having the analog meter read manually.

Experts from UBC, SFU and BCIT all refused to do an on-camera interview about the safety of the smart meters.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control did a study on the smart meters a few months ago and concluded that the health risks were so insignificant that it wasn't worth the researcher's time to even do an interview with us on the subject.

Medical health officers with Vancouver Coastal Health say there are no known health risks and no reason for concern over the radio frequencies. BC Hydro says its meters operate at a much lower power emission than the average cell phone.

Related: Read the CDC study

More than 3,600 people have added their names to a petition by the group StopSmartMeters.ca to stop smart meters in B.C.

Watch CTV for a full report from Lynda Steele, and the reaction from BC Hydro…

Have your say: What do you think of smart meters?