POLITICS

SaskPower customers still confident despite failed smart meters: government

04/14/2015 03:47 EDT | Updated 06/23/2015 02:59 EDT
REGINA - The Saskatchewan government says its Crown power utility has maintained customer confidence even though 10 smart meters overheated and melted last year.

"I think SaskPower has done a pretty good job of managing a very, very difficult situation," Bill Boyd, minister responsible for SaskPower, said as the utility released its annual report Tuesday.

Last summer, the province ordered SaskPower to remove more than 100,000 newer smart meter models after reports of fires related to the devices.

"We were fortunate that there wasn't any loss of life or significant loss of property with respect to this smart-meter program," Boyd said. "I think most people would still view SaskPower as a good electrical supplier and provider."

The Opposition has criticized the government's response to the smart-meter failures and its contract with a U.S. manufacturer.

SaskPower has said Sensus is refunding $24 million for all the meters purchased, is crediting SaskPower another $18 million for new meters and providing an extra $5 million for research.

Saskatchewan's Crown Investment Corp. was directed to do a review after the fires. It found that rain water and contaminants getting into the meters appeared to contribute to their failure.

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

SaskPower critic Trent Wotherspoon said the utility's annual report is problematic.

"They rammed forward with a dangerous smart-meter program costing taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars," he said.

He added that it's alarming to see the Crown's net income down from last year. The annual report shows SaskPower had an operating income of $43 million before market adjustments compared with $167 million in 2013.

There is not one single project responsible for the decline, Boyd said.

"Investment is necessary to renew and improve the system and meet increasing demand."

Boyd added a $1.4-billion flagship carbon capture and storage project near Estevan contributed to less income in 2014.

"We still are of the belief that this is a very good project," he said.

The retrofitted coal-fired power plant garnered international attention when SaskPower launched it last fall. It is touted as the world's first commercial-scale operation of its kind.

Wotherspoon said the government has made a series of poor decisions and the clean coal project is too costly.

"With this government it has been increase after increase after increase," he said. "Saskatchewan families are struggling with affordability."