POLITICS

Smart meter melts in Saskatchewan, at least eight other fires have been reported

11/07/2014 02:43 EST | Updated 01/07/2015 05:59 EST
REGINA - Saskatchewan's Crown utility is investigating the latest smart-meter failure after one of the devices overheated and melted.

Spokesman Tyler Hopson said the problem was reported to SaskPower just before 2 a.m. Friday and a crew went to replace the device.

Hopson said it's concerning whenever there is a malfunction and the company is working to remove smart meters as quickly as possible.

"It does look similar to the other eight incidents that have taken place this year," he said, adding that he doesn't know if there was a fire at the Regina home.

Last summer, the province ordered SaskPower to remove more than 100,000 of the newer models that had already been installed after reports of at least eight fires related to the devices.

"We're trending a little bit ahead of schedule right now in terms of the removal," he said. The company is planning to have all meters removed by March 15.

"We're working to make the situation right and get a fresh start on smart meters," Hopson said.

Saskatchewan's Crown Investment Corp. was directed to do a review after the fires. The investigation results found that rain water and contaminants getting into the meters appeared to contribute to them failing.

The report said that customer safety wasn't enough of a priority.

"In various parts of the province, eight meters failed catastrophically, melting or burning and in some cases damaging the sides of houses," the report said. The failures were not related to "hot sockets" or installation issues, it said.

The report also said SaskPower failed to look at the possibility that the meters could short out and catch fire.

It said that the utility looked at 359 returns and found that 18 smart meters were burned and no longer operational. Three more had high temperature errors, while 107 had display problems and 67 showed error codes.

The Opposition has been criticizing the government for its response to the safety issues and is calling for the resignation of Economy Minister Bill Boyd, who is also the minister responsible for SaskPower.

The CEO and president of SaskPower, Robert Watson, resigned in wake of the issue. Boyd said Watson has taken responsibility for the project's shortfalls.

Hopson said SaskPower customers can request a priority exchange if they are concerned about their smart meters.

The problems in Saskatchewan prompted officials in Medicine Hat, Alta., to suspend installation of electricity smart meters in August. A spokesman for the city said there had been no reported problems.

In Ontario, smart meters have been linked to 23 reports to Ontario's fire marshal between 2011 and 2013, including 13 small fires. Karen Cormier, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Energy Board, has said that 36 of 77 utilities in Ontario use smart meters from Sensus, but none is the model used in Saskatchewan.