At a media availability Monday morning to report on Saskatchewan's seventh smart meter failure this year, SaskPower confirmed crews had just been dispatched to an eighth.
SaskPower put the smart meter program on hold after six meters caught fire between May and July this year. Since then, the utility has been investigating.
"When you start having meter incidents, we as a company are concerned," Mike March, SaskPower's vice-president of operations, said Monday. "People need to know the failure rates are still within what the industry calls normal, but we are concerned about any failure."
Smart meters, which are manufactured by Sensus Corporation, allow SaskPower to bill customers for the power they use each month rather than relying on estimates between meter readings. The utility introduced the replacement program in October of 2013 and since it installed more than 100,000 meters in the province before putting the program on hold.
No cause identified
Officials with the utility say they still have not narrowed down a cause for the fires.
"The type of meter failure is really specific in every case," Marsh said. "In some cases there have been meter socket issues, in the past and I know some of the manufacturers point to that as the reason."
A company called Grid One Solutions is supervising the deployment of the meters. The actual meter installers are SaskPower employees who are not journeymen. SaskPower doesn't believe that has anything to do with the failures.
"They are not qualified electricians," Marsh said. "But in most jurisdictions in North America, a competent worker is what is used to install the smart meters."
The utility had little information about the eighth smart meter fire except that it happened around 10 a.m. CST Monday in the College Park area of Saskatoon and that it was likely similar to the one that happened Saturday.
What do you think? Should SaskPower replace your new smart meter with an old one? If you have a SaskPower smart meter, do you fear it will burst out in flames? Join the Saskatoon Morning live chat right now.
Two meter failures since Saturday
Brad McNairn lives at the home in Saskatoon where the seventh meter caught fire. He said the meter on his house blew out early Saturday morning.
"We were pretty concerned because we have three little children in the house and the power meter is right beside where my oldest sleeps," he said.
The failed unit left scorch marks up the side of the exterior wall.
"This has the potential for starting a house on fire and losing a family and I don't know if that has to happen for them to change their decision on moving ahead with these smart meters," McNairn said.
SaskPower considering allowing customers to install old meters
When new installations were put on hold SaskPower said customers could not opt out of the replacement program but that they could delay the installation of a smart meter at their home. On Monday, the company said it is open to letting people whose homes have a smart meter revert to an old mechanical meter instead.
"If people truly want to have their meter replaced, we will certainly look at that," Marsh said. "We will inspect the meter base but if the customer wants to look at having an old meter put on, we will certainly go that route."
Ultimately, SaskPower has plans to install a total of 500,000 new meters by 2015.
Findings from the investigation into the smart meter fires are expected some time in August.