Smart meter safety not enough of a priority for SaskPower: review
Rainwater, not installation, likely cause of failures
A review of smart meters in Saskatchewan says warning signs were missed and customer safety was not given enough priority by the government's power company, SaskPower.
The report released Monday had been ordered by government and commissioned by its Crown Investments Corporation (CIC) after eight of the new smart meters caught on fire on customers' homes earlier this year.
There was immediate fallout from its release — SaskPower CEO Robert Watson resigned, it was announced.
More than 100,000 smart meters ordered removed
Earlier this year, following the smart meter fires, the government ordered SaskPower to cancel the $47-million program and pull out 105,000 units that had been installed under contract to the Sensus corporation.
The potential for catastrophic meter failure was never identified as a possible risk.- CIC Smart Meter Review
The review, which includes three consultants' reports, says the most likely cause of the fires was rainwater and other contaminants that got inside the meters, rather than installation problems.
It also says SaskPower needs to change the way it procures products in the future, especially for complex projects like the smart meter program.
It says SaskPower's "risk management" process was lacking — if it had been better, some of the later headaches could have been avoided.
The review says SaskPower had received advice that it should buy small batches of smart meters, install them gradually and watch for problems but the company did not do that. Instead, it installed all 105,000 over three weeks.
Warnings ignored, report says
Among the findings was that SaskPower had warnings as early as 2012 that other power companies were alleging problems with Sensus meters.
In one case, "SaskPower consultants considered and, subsequently, dismissed the concerns raised by the proponent, concluding that their due diligence was adequate."
The review says that SaskPower's "overreliance" on external consultants meant that public safety wasn't properly identified as an issue.
"This is evident by the fact that the potential for catastrophic meter failure was never identified as a possible risk," the report said.
The government says it has reviewed the summary of the report's findings and has directed that SaskPower remove all of the Sensus meters by March 15, 2015, at the latest and that SaskPower implement all of the consultants' recommendations.
"One of the primary focuses of SaskPower should always be around the safety of the customers. That wasn't done in this case and regrettably it resulted in a lot of problems," said Bill Boyd, the minister responsible for SaskPower.
SaskPower getting a refund on costs
While the CIC review was taking place, SaskPower struck a deal with Sensus to recover $47 million in costs, although only $24 million was in cash. The rest was a credit for future purchases ($18 million) and research and development money ($5 million).
The smart meter saga has also turned into a political football, with the New Democrats calling it a "fiasco" that the provincial auditor should be called in to investigate.
"I think most Saskatchewan people would just shake their heads to say, 'You've paid dollars to a company to come up and put a dangerous meter on their homes despite warnings,' and can't get your dollars back? That just doesn't make any sense at all," said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon,
With files from Stefani Langenegger