07/30/2014 04:53 EDT | Updated 09/29/2014 05:59 EDT

SaskPower to remove 105,000 smart meters following fires

The Saskatchewan government has ordered its power utility SaskPower to remove 105,000 so-called smart meters installed at homes and businesses across the province, following concerns about eight unexplained fires associated with the units.

The minister responsible for the provincial Crown corporation, Bill Boyd, announced the move Wednesday.

"The concerns about safety are paramount here," Boyd told reporters in Regina. "The concerns are significant enough that we believe that any time that families are at risk here in Saskatchewan, actions have to be taken. That's why we've directed SaskPower accordingly."

Questions about the meters surfaced in July when SaskPower announced it was investigating a handful of cases where newly installed meters malfunctioned. In all cases, the failures only affected the outside of a home and no one was hurt.

SaskPower had put its meter replacement program on hold while it investigated the fires.

According to officials, it will take about six to nine months to swap out the meters already installed. That is expected to cost about $90 per customer — $45 for a different meter and $45 for the work. That works out to around $9.5 million for the entire province. SaskPower also has a cache of more than 100,000 new devices in storage that will not be used.

It was not immediately clear who would pay for the costs associated with the swap.

The minister said SaskPower will also conduct an internal review to examine how the company came to select Sensus meters for its system-wide replacement program. 

The smart meters, which are manufactured by Sensus Corporation, allow SaskPower to bill customers for the power they use each month rather than relying on estimates between meter readings. The utility introduced the replacement program in October 2013.

The government's move applies to customers of SaskPower throughout the province, but does not apply to parts of Saskatoon that receive service from that city's power and light utility. According to Saskatoon officials, their meter replacement program, which uses a different supplier, has not had any problems.