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Manufacturer defends smart meters after fires

REGINA - The company that manufactures the electricity meters that are being replaced in Saskatchewan due to fires is defending its equipment.

Sensus, the North Carolina-based company whose smart meters have been linked to eight fires in Saskatchewan homes, says in a news release it has conducted lab tests and site inspections at the recent incidents.

It says the results so far indicate that some of the fires were caused by holes in the meter boxes that allowed water in, or by power surges.

It also says a "hot socket" that occurred where the meter is plugged into a home's utility base played a role in one of the incidents.

The condition can result from of a poor connection between the meter and the home's socket, and background material supplied by the company suggests sockets need to be checked for wear or corrosion before meters are installed.

Saskatchewan's Crown Investments Corp. has been asked to investigate and SaskPower is conducting an internal review after the province ordered 105,000 of the utility meters to be removed from homes last week.

Sensus stressed the "critical importance" of careful meter installation, including the examination of meter boxes and wiring. It also said meter installers need to be properly trained and that fast action is needed when problems are first detected.

"Safety is our number one priority and all Sensus meters go through rigorous testing and meet or exceed industry safety standards," Sensus president Randy Bays said in the news release.

"I have been personally involved with our customers and Sensus quality and engineering teams as we work to collect fact-based and data-driven information on these specific incidents."

A smart meter records consumption of energy in small intervals and can relay the information electronically to a utilities company. It eliminates the need to estimate bills when a meter reader can't do an on-site check.

SaskPower has been ordered to remove any smart meters already in use and install the old ones.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says the government will go after Census for a portion of the $15-million cost of replacing the meters.

The problem in Saskatchewan has prompted officials in Medicine Hat, Alta., to suspend installation of electricity smart meters in that city even though a spokesman for the city said there have been no reported problems.

The spokesman noted that meter sockets were inspected during the installation, photographed, and then the photos were sent to the utility for additional inspection. Meters were also equipped with heat alarms.

Mike Marsh with SaskPower said last week that even though there was evidence of failures in other markets such as Portland, Ore., they decided it was still an appropriate meter to go with.

Sensus said it continues to focus on working with utilities to help them understand the problems that can occur when meters are installed.

"Our experience has shown that these issues are systemic in the industry and we are committed to delivering solutions that help our customers to overcome these challenges," Bays said.

BC Hydro has installed smart meters in 99 per cent of homes and businesses provincewide, but said there has been no evidence of fires started by smart meters.

The utility uses equipment manufactured by Itron Inc., based in Washington state.

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