National News

BC Hydro insists smart meters safe

By Steven Chua, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - BC Hydro is turning a negative into a positive.

While Saskatchewan is pulling the plug on its smart meters because of fire concerns, BC Hydro is trumpeting the safety record of its program.

Over the next six to nine months, SaskPower will remove all 105,000 of its smart meters after at least eight of them caught fire in the last two months.

Bill Boyd, minister responsible for SaskPower, told a news conference in Regina that all of the province's meters are to be replaced with traditional units.

The smart meters were made by North-Carolina-based company Sensus, which said in a statement that it has not confirmed whether smart meters sparked the fires.

"We are working with SaskPower to understand what specific events led to those issues and to determine the best course of action," the statement said. "The investigation is still underway."

SaskPower CEO Robert Watson has said the issue is being taken extremely seriously.

“The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority as we continue our investigation,” he said in a news release. "We are taking every step possible to ensure the highest level of safety.”

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

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

B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett said he's not aware of any problems with the meters.

"We've got a really comprehensive application of smart metres," Bennett said. "Saskatchewan, I think, didn't go all the way and the value of SmartGrid and the value of smart meters really is only appreciated when you have done the whole jurisdiction and that's the approach we've taken."

"I think ratepayers will thank us for this," he said.

Two studies commissioned by BC Hydro suggest smart meters may have actually decreased the risk of electrical fires in B.C.

The studies were conducted by the University of the Fraser Valley during and after the installation of 1.9 million meters across the province, with data from fire departments across the province.

Len Garis, Surrey's fire chief and a researcher who worked on the reports, said BC Hydro's safety checks could be behind the decrease in fire risk.

"When they deployed smart meters they actually inspected the meter bases," Garis said. "If the sockets showed any signs of wear or tear or corrosion or fractures when they removed the meters, they actually replaced them for free."

BC Hydro conducted more than 2,000 socket repairs while implementing the program, Garis said, adding there were no findings suggesting smart meters caused fires.

"It was alleged that there were more fires," he said. "We just simply could not find that in the data whatsoever."

The office of B.C.'s fire commissioner said it reviewed about 17,000 fire reports and found only seven contained a reference to smart meters in the area where a fire started.

"None of these reports definitively identified the smart meter as the actual source of the fire,” fire commissioner Gordon Anderson said in an email.

BC Hydro spokesman Greg Alexis said all of BC Hydro’s meters must pass stringent federal and North American standards set by Measurement Canada, American National Standards Institute, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the International Electrotechnical Commission.

Ontario and Alberta use smart meters, and the devices were piloted in Manitoba.

(The Canadian Press, CHNL)

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