British Columbia

Smart meter fires spark concerns in B.C.

Questions are being raised about the safety of smart meters after fire crews are called to a home for the second time in weeks, soon after a smart meter installation.
BC Hydro plans to install 1.8 million smart meters across B.C. by the end of 2012 (CBC)

Questions are being raised about the safety of smart meters after fire crews were called to a home in Coquitlam over problems with the box — the second such incident in weeks.

The latest incident happened at about 3 a.m. PT on Sunday morning. There was only minor damage to the home, said Coquitlam fire Chief Scott MacKenzie.

He declined to comment further as the case has now been handed over to BC Hydro for a full investigation.

Technicians had installed a smart meter at the residence — an older home — about a month ago, said a BC Hydro official.

The incident comes after a Mission woman's house burnt down on June 15, just one day after a smart meter was installed there.

A report by the Mission Fire Department said the fire originated at the base plate which the smart meter was plugged into.

BC Hydro says the base is part of the house, so any damage or fault with the equipment is the responsibility of the homeowner.

"There’s a lot of steps underway to ensure that everything is safe," said BC Hydro spokeswoman Cindy Verschoor. "But that’s not to say that equipment can’t malfunction at any time."

Surrey electrical contractor Bill Strain says problems can arise when the base plate is old or damaged.

"If moisture entered into the [meter base], there could be corrosion, rusting or any number of things," he said.

The cases could point to a bigger problem nationwide. A recent report by the Ontario Fire Marshall says "initial research [showed] an unusual amount of fire incidents involving smart meters."

The report, dated June 15, adds: "Anecdotal information supported problems occurred after the old analog meters were updated to the new digital smart meters."

BC Hydro says it has installed 1.5 million smart meters so far, and replaced about 1,000 faulty bases for free.

Verschoor says customers should call immediately if they notice problems with flickering lights or any unusual dimming or brightening shortly after a smart meter is installed.

BC Hydro is on track to replace some 1.8 million analog meters throughout the province by the end of the year.

Smart meters are capable of providing hourly information about electricity consumption. The utility estimates the meters will save consumers $1.6 billion over the next 20 years by preventing the loss and theft of power.

But there has been an intense revolt against smart meters in the province, with more than 15,000 residents signing petitions opposing the devices.

With files from the CBC's Ayesha Bhatty