In another jolt to Ontario’s troubled smart-meter program, 5,400 of the electricity conservation gauges are being removed due to a risk of fire.
The province’s Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) announced Thursday that Sensus 3.2 smart meters equipped with a remote disconnect feature are affected.
“We’re acting out of an abundance of caution,” ESA president and CEO David Collie told reporters at Queen’s Park, noting there are 4.8 million smart meters in Ontario.
“This particular meter is in very limited use,” said Collie, noting while there are about 50,000 Sensus 3.2 meters in Ontario, the safety concerns are with only the remote-disconnect models usually installed in seasonal properties, such as trailer parks or summer cottages.
It’s the latest snag to hit the controversial $2-billion smart meter program, which auditor general Bonnie Lysyk criticized last month for cost overruns and poor performance.
Lysyk found one in six of the meters had not yet transmitted any readings of electricity use and criticized the doubling in cost of a system that was supposed to come in at $1 billion.
Collie said the ESA began investigating after eight unexplained minor fires in Saskatchewan last summer linked to a different remote-disconnect meter, the Sensus 3.3.
SaskPower has since removed the Sensus meters in question from homes and businesses there.
After one minor problem was reported at an undisclosed Ontario location, the ESA issued a safety bulletin to all of the province’s 73 local utilities to replace the meters by March 31.
No Toronto Hydro or Hydro One customers are affected.
Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, under fire for recent problems with the time-of-use monitors, stressed “there have not been any reported incidents with this particular model of smart meter in Ontario.”
“The safety of all Ontarians is the number one priority of our government,” Chiarelli said in a statement.
His office said it is up to the local utilities to “recover all costs associated with this action” from Sensus.
In a statement late Thursday, Sensus officials said the North Carolina-based company was “disappointed” in the ESA’s decision and would be following up to determine why the safety authority acted.
“The Sensus iConA Generation 3.2 remote disconnect meters have a perfect record in Ontario,” the firm said.
New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto—Danforth) said the Liberals have created “a total mess” of the smart meters that were designed to save consumers money by encouraging them to use electricity at off-peak hours.
“They blew billions of dollars on meters that haven’t saved us energy, haven’t saved us money, and are presenting a threat to public safety,” said Tabuns.
“The government has a lot of answers to provide.”
Progressive Conservative MPP John Yakabuski (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke) said it’s “yet another example of the Liberal government failing to respond to problems of their own making.”
“We’ve been calling for the ministry to take action on this issue since August. Ensuring Ontario families are safe should not take six months,” Yakabuski said in a statement.
“As we’ve seen the smart meter program has been an abject failure since the beginning.”
More than 400 of the problem Sensus meters have already been removed, but there are still almost 5,000 in use — 3,492 of them are Bluewater Power Distribution customers in the Sarnia area.
There are also 449 Waterloo North Hydro customers; 327 with Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro; 266 with EnWin Utilities in Windsor; 161 with Greater Sudbury Hydro; 115 with Brant County Power; 108 with Cobourg’s Lakefront Utilities; 27 with Canadian Niagara Power; 24 with Norfolk Power Distribution; seven with Oakville Hydro; and three with Algoma Power.
Smart meters enable utilities to charge fluctuating prices at different times of day, meaning electricity will be more expensive at peak times of day such as the dinner hour.
That’s to encourage conservation because consumers should be able to save money by using their dishwashers and other appliances at night.