Smart meters linked to fires in Saskatchewan in use in Waterloo Region
Local hydro company officials say they have no concerns over smart meters
By Andrea Bellemare, CBC News Posted: Aug 08, 2014 5:14 PM ET Last Updated: Aug 09, 2014 11:11 AM ET
The same type of smart meter linked to recent fires in Saskatchewan is in use in Waterloo Region, but hydro company officials here say they are not concerned about safety risks.
The Sensus Icon A Generation 3 2S smart meter has been linked to nine fires in Saskatchewan. As a result, the head of SaskPower has apologized to consumers and will replace 105,000 smart meters, a process that is expected to take six to nine months.
However, officials from Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro, Waterloo North Hydro and Cambridge and North Dumfries Hydro say they’re not concerned about similar fires happening here.
Jerry Van Ooteghem, the president and CEO of Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro, says the utility has about 90,000 Sensus smart meters in use. Of those, around 4,400 are the type that are linked to fires in Saskatchewan.
“We have not had any problems with any of the smart meters we’ve installed at this point in time. Obviously we will monitor the situation closely in Saskatchewan, in terms of any findings that might come out of the investigation there, but currently we’ve have no problems and we don’t feel there’s any risk with these meters,” said Van Ooteghem.
Ian Miles, the president of Cambridge North Dumfries Hydro, says there are about 49,000 Sensus meters in total, but he was not sure how many were the Generation 3 type.
“We do use Sensus meters, not necessarily the same model number that are causing those fires in Saskatchewan,” said Miles.
“We actually started installing them back in 2005 and completed the installation of all our customers by 2010, so they’ve been in service for quite some time and we’ve never experienced any issues with overheating or fires.”
“We’re not overly concerned, but we are of course going to monitor that investigation,” said Miles, in reference to the Saskatchewan case.
Waterloo North Hydro has over 50,000 smart meters in use. Of those, about 4,300 Sensus Generation 3 meters, though none of the exact type linked to the recent fires.
“We have no concerns about our meter population,” said Herb Haller, the vice president of engineering for Waterloo North Hydro. The company has used smart meters for several years and reports no safety concerns.
His confidence was echoed by Albert Singh, the company’s chief financial officer.
“We don’t believe there’s a safety issue here at all,” he said.
According to the Ontario Fire Marshal, smart meters have been linked to 23 cases between 2011- 2013. Of those cases, ten were meter failures caused by internal faults, and 13 were small fires linked to high-resistance heating, according to an OFM spokesperson.
Company says ‘industry issues’ to blame for fires
In a recent statement posted on the Sensus website, the company attributes the recent fires to what it calls “long-standing industry issues.”
The company says it has been “conducting utility site inspections and performing extensive lab testing” to find the cause of the small fires in Saskatchewan.
Sensus says two fires were caused by water getting into the meter box, three were caused by over voltage from the utility, and one was the result of an issue with a meter base.
Here in the region, the utility companies emphasized how important it is to install smart meters correctly.
“They plug into a socket, in what’s called a meter base. In some cases where those meter bases are really old and rusted, they need to be replaced before a new meter is installed, otherwise the rust sort of inhibits the contact and that can lead to overheating, and fires in some cases,” said Miles.
“We were very cautious when we replaced the meters,” says Van Ooteghem. ”Wherever we noticed a problem with a meter base, we made repairs at the time, prior to installing the smart meters.”
Smart meters linked to Saskatchewan fires used in Sudbury
Company says inspections are done on all new smart meter installations
CBC News Posted: Aug 11, 2014 9:00 PM ET Last Updated: Aug 12, 2014 9:48 AM ET
An example of some of the Sensus smart meters that were installed around Sudbury between 2008 and 2012. (Jason Turnbull/CBC)Greater Sudbury Utilities is using 173 of the smart meters that have been linked to house fires in Saskatchewan.
Reports suggest the Sensus Generation 3 meters have led to nine separate house fires in the Prairie province, and some communities like Medicine Hat, Alberta have halted installations of the suspected meters all together.
HydroOne, the province’s largest electricity distributor, does not using any of the Sensus meters. According to Canadian Press, 30 out of 77 smaller distributors – including Greater Sudbury Utilities – do use the American-made smart meters.
Despite that, Greater Sudbury Utilities said Sudburians need not be alarmed.
“Yes there have been smart meters put in, yes there were fires in installations where it happened, but the real question is what caused it,” said Brian McMillan, vice president of electrical distribution with the Sudbury utility.
Brian McMillan with Greater Sudbury Utilities. (Jason Turnbull/CBC)
Until the cause of the fire can be determined, McMillan said trying to figure out a solution would be an impossible task.
Up to this point, most issues that have arisen have been as a result of external factors, such as high voltage, water seepage into the meter base, and worn down meter bases, he said.
Most of the smart meters in Sudbury were installed between 2008 and 2012.
According to McMillan, the installation period was also used as a sort of inspection.
“Every time we went to a site to change a meter, our contractors were instructed to look at the meter base for holes, worn down spots, anything looking in need of repair,” he said. “If there was something, we looked at it and got it fixed.”
McMillan said he is unsure as to whether or not the same procedure was undertaken by SaskPower.
In addition to installation precautions, Generation 2 and later Sensus models also have “hot socket” alarms, meant to send an alert back to the utility if the unit is beginning to overheat.
McMillan added they’ve only ever had calls about the Generation 2 models, and that they’ve all been in response to hot socket alarms.
He said it can be challenging sometimes to run diagnostic tests, because ultimately the meter base is owned by the customer as part of the property, while the smart meter itself belongs to the utility company.
Customers encouraged to call
If people are concerned about their smart meter, Greater Sudbury Utilities encourages customers to call in to find out whether they have a Generation 2 or Generation 3 model installed.
At this point, the company is not planning to switch out any of the Sensus model meters.
“We’re waiting for further technical data to make sure we’re solving the right problem,” McMillan said. “What you’re really talking about here is risk, and the risk that one of these is going to cause a fire in your home is not very high.”