Sask. let 'unqualified' workers install meters, NDP says
SaskPower says it is "in compliance with all legislation"
The NDP is accusing the Saskatchewan Party government of using unqualified workers to install its "smart" power meters — putting the safety of SaskPower customers at risk.
According to documents obtained by the NDP through freedom of information requests, qualified electrical workers did not have to be used to replace more than 100,000 power meters because the government obtained an exemption.
The exemption applied to both SaskPower and a private contractor, Grid One Solutions Inc., which was allowed to hire "less-qualified" workers through a temp agency to install the Sensus meters, the NDP says.
The Saskatchewan government then cancelled the exemption on Aug. 1.
On Friday afternoon, SaskPower responded to the allegations saying it is in compliance with all legislation in the province related to electrical workers.
Spokesperson for the crown corporation, Tyler Hopson, told reporters SaskPower doesn't know why the exemption was necessary or why it was lifted.
"That would be a question for the Ministry of Labour Relations. We were requested to make that exemption and so we followed suit and again we've been in compliance with legislation the entire time," said Hopson.
Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) released a statement later in the afternoon confirming it granted the exemption in July 2013.
It said before exemptions are granted it considers the nature, duration and hazards associated with the work, personal protective equipment and the training that will be provided to the workers.
After the exemption was granted, "OHS officers did field inspection and determined that the work was being done safely so as to ensure the safety of the workers," reads the statement, in part, from OHS.
It added that no workers have been injured on the project so far.
The NDP also says the documents it obtained show that 150 unqualified workers were hired despite the fact that 50 electricians had applied to do the job.
Hopson responded to that saying, "there is a shortage of qualified electricians in Saskatchewan."
There have been at least 10 fires since the beginning of June linked to replacement of the meters and SaskPower has halted the program.
It's also making plans to remove all the smart meters and replace them with an older model at a cost of $47 million.
The NDP said its documents show the government was aware something was wrong in 2013 after eight other installations resulted in power outages during a trial period.
"The government has knowingly been putting people, homes and millions of ratepayer dollars at risk, ignoring direct warnings," said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon.
Earlier in the day, the government announced more details about its review of SaskPower's smart meter program.
The Crown Investments Corporation says it will use independent experts to conduct the review.
It will look at the cause of the fires, how things were managed, and how costs might be recovered.
The review will also look at SaskPower's legal options when it comes to recovering extra expenses.
The government expects a report containing recommendations will be released in late October.