Smart meter program heating up after fires reported
BC Hydro is having to defend smart meters again after several house fires were reported that originated at meter boxes.
Gary Murphy, Chief Project Officer for the smart metering program, said there have been “a handful” of fires across the province since smart meters have been installed.
The latest incident happened in Coquitlam on Aug. 5 and appears to be related to an overloaded circuit, according to BC Hydro’s investigation.
“The smart meter was installed a month before that with no issues raised by the customer in terms of flickering lights or partial outages or anything that would indicate that something may have become loose during the installation process,” Gary said.
In Mission on June 15, a woman’s house burned down three days after a smart meter had been installed. BC Hydro’s investigation is ongoing. The Mission Fire Department’s fire chief determined the fire appears to have originated at the base plate, or meter socket, which the smart meter is plugged in to.
The fires start through overheating at a weak juncture resulting from defective equipment or an overloaded circuit.
“It’s not in the meter,” said Gary. “The meters are simply a conduit of service from BC Hydro to the customer, and a measuring device. There’s no charge inside, there’s no battery.”
No fires have been reported on Gabriola Island, said Gary, although there was one incident in Nanaimo.
BC Hydro inspects meter sockets before installing the new meter to determine if there are any issues with the socket. If any problems are discovered, BC Hydro will notify the homeowner and have a qualified electrician install a new meter socket for free. Meter sockets belong to the homeowner, not BC Hydro.
“These meter bases shouldn’t be breaking – this equipment is designed to last a long time,” said Gary. “It’s extremely rare when it happens, but when it does, we’re prepared to deal with it.”
Before smart meters, BC Hydro exchanged up to 40,000 analog meters per year. Meter socket failures are occurring at the same rate – about 0.05 per cent – with the new smart meter exchanges as they did with old meter exchanges, according to a press release the utility issued.
To date, there have been approximately 1,000 cases where BC Hydro has found pre-existing damage to a customer’s meter socket after the analog meter was removed.
Gary said homeowners should call BC Hydro if they notice sustained flickering of lights, multiple lights getting brighter or dimmer, or partial outages, as these may indicate a problem with meter sockets.
To date, 1.5 million smart meters have been installed over the last year and a half. By the end of the year, that total should reach 1.8 million.