BC Hydro is rolling out its new smart meter program this month and there have already been a number of critics questioning the program. The high-tech devices aren't even installed yet and they're already stirring up a lot of controversy. Some say they're an invasion of privacy, while others say it could increase your risk of cancer.

With demand for electricity expected to jump 40 per cent over the next two decades, BC Hydro is updating 50-year old technology with new radio frequency-equipped smart meters that can track your hourly electricity consumption.

"What smart meters will do is give us almost two million eyes and ears on the grid," said Fiona Taylor, Deputy Project Officer on the Smart Meter Program.

Taylor says the high-tech devices will help hydro deliver a reliable and cost effective supply of power, while helping to stop electricity theft that costs the Crown Corporation an estimated $100 million a year.

"When the utility is able to identify and stop power theft like that, that translates into savings for the utility which translates into savings for us as consumers," said Taylor.

But are the meters safe? The BC Green Party has doubts and so does Milt Bowling, who speaks for the non-profit group Health Action Network Society.

"They're wirelessly transmitting radiation and that's a major concern because the World Health Organization's international agency for research on cancer, at the end of May, classified this type of radiation as a class 2-B carcinogen, which means a possible human carcinogen," said Bowling.

BC Hydro claims the meter is as safe as talking on your cell phone.

"The total RF output from a BC Hydro smart meter in its entire lifetime, so 20 years, of a smart meter is equivalent to 30 minutes on a cell phone."

Others have concerns about privacy. They want to know if Hydro really needs to know your hourly electricity usage, and if criminals could hack into the smart meters and figure out who's not home.

"Suddenly your consumption drops off. Those people are probably gone, maybe someone will show up with a crowbar at their place," said Vincent Gogolek of BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

"It's possible to figure out you're not home by just walking by your house and seeing where the cars and lights are," said Taylor.

BC Hydro says it has hired so-called "ethical hackers" to test the security of the smart meters and so far the security services firm has not been able to break into the system.

Still, B.C.'s privacy commissioner recently announced she is investigating to make sure the meters comply with provincial privacy laws.

Elizabeth Denham says that an increase in the frequency of information collected means an increased responsibility on Hydro's behalf to make sure privacy and security is built into the smart meter grid.

BC Hydro plans to have nearly two million smart meters installed in homes and businesses throughout B.C. by the end of next year.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Lynda Steele