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Story Update: Shortly after this article was posted, the Saskatchewan government announced it was ordering SaskPower to remove all of the Sensus smart meters the utility has installed. More information about that development is available here.

A few weeks after SaskPower announced it was halting its installation of Sensus smart meters following six fires, the Canadian utility says it is investigating two new so-called "meter failures." In addition, Oregon-based Portland General Electric (PGE) recently revealed plans to replace 70,000 Sensus meters in its territory due to fire concerns.

Earlier this month, SaskPower said it was suspending its smart meter rollout indefinitely after six fires occurred at Sensus meters - incidents the company referred to as "meter failures." The utility, which plans to deploy 500,000 smart meters across Saskatchewan, has installed about 105,000 units thus far.

SaskPower spokesperson Tyler Hopson recently told Renew Grid, "All six incidents resulted in small fires that went out on their own and were contained to the area immediately around the meter." In a July 16 blog post, the utility initially said the six incidents were “caused by apparent heating at the meter.”

Now, SaskPower says it has stepped up its investigation following a seventh meter failure on July 26 and an eighth on July 28. And although various reports say the new incidents were fires (one even called the July 26 event an explosion), Hopson claims there is a distinction to be made.

“Some media have characterized [it] as a fire; technically, it is overheating at or of the meter,” he says. “Some failures have resulted in small fires that have gone out on their own, others have not involved a fire.”

Semantics aside, the utility is working hard to resolve the meter problem. In a July 28 press release, SaskPower President and CEO Robert Watson says, “The issue is being taken extremely seriously. The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority as we continue our investigation.”

The company also says its preliminary investigation has not determined a definitive reason for the meter failures. “We’re working with independent parties and the meter manufacturer to identify the issue as quickly as possible,” adds Watson. However, the utility does not expect results until late August, and the hold on smart meter installations remains in effect until further notice.

Notably, a report from News Talk 650 CKOM says SaskPower has agreed to replace the smart meters with legacy meters upon request from concerned customers. So far, about 150 ratepayers have asked to have their smart meters swapped out.

Separately, utility PGE announced last week that it has started to replace 70,000 residential Sensus smart meters amid safety and performance concerns and after three fire incidents. A company press release says the issue is limited to a specific type of meters that were installed between 2010 and 2012, mainly at rental properties.

According to a report in The Oregonian, the meter model PGE is replacing is the Sensus 2S Gen3 RD, and the meters feature technology allowing them to be turned on and off remotely. In its press release, the utility explains, “PGE’s internal analysis and tests - confirmed by independent experts hired by the company - show this meter type did not perform optimally and, in an extremely rare case, a meter could catch fire. Three small meter fires involving this type of meter have been reported in PGE’s service territory, with only minor property damage in one case.”

PGE assures that the other 785,000 smart meters it installed in its territory are not the same model and have had no issues. The utility, which plans to complete the meter swap-out by the end of October, has sent out letters informing its affected customers.

“While the risk is extremely low, it’s simply unacceptable to us,” says Bill Nicholson, PGE’s senior vice president of customer service, transmission and distribution, in a statement. “We are deeply committed to our customers and their safety, so we are exchanging these meters as quickly as possible.”

PGE is not the only utility that made a decision to replace Sensus smart meters following fires. In 2012, Philadelphia-based PECO suspended its smart meter installations while it investigated more than 25 overheating incidents, three of which resulted in fires. Following its probe into the incidents, the utility later announced it was replacing 96,000 Sensus meters with Landis+Gyr units.

Linda Palmer, a Sensus spokesperson, tells Renew Grid that the manufacturer is dedicated to its customers and that its smart meters are safe. The company has issued the following statement:

We are concerned whenever a customer experiences issues. Be assured we are committed to working with them to understand what specific events led to the issue and to engaging with them on whatever solution is necessary.

Safety is our number one priority, and all Sensus meters are subject to rigorous testing and meet or exceed all industry safety standards. ANSI standards include ANSI C12.1-2008, Code for Electricity Metering and ANSI C12.20-2010, American National Standard for Electricity Meters 0.2 and 0.5 Accuracy Classes.

The industry, as a whole, has experienced meter issues for years. Given that there are more than 40 million meters deployed to date in North America, the failure rates are very low.

There are approximately 10 million Sensus meters in North America operating safely and reliably. We are evaluating the small number of issues, and we remain committed to providing safe products through engineering excellence and testing to industry standards.

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