Segment #22 – Observations (cont’d)

RESPONSE TO “BCUC’s Staff Report on Smart Meter Fire Safety Concerns

KEY:  Highlighted text is from Sharon Noble  Non-highlighted text is the draft report as written by BCUC staff.

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Segment #22

Below, BCUC acknowledges that BC Hydro doesn’t track meter failures or fires after installation.  It also admits that there is no coordination among agencies, meaning no one is in charge to ensure that fires are investigated properly and that “incidents” are not properly investigated. This means that there is no way that BCUC or anyone can say smart meters are not fire hazards.   Please remember that my comments are highlighted in yellow while BCUC’s comments are not.

Sharon Noble

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Observations (continued)

The evidence reviewed indicates the safety hazard associated with watthour meters has not materially increased with the introduction of smart meters in BC as further detailed below:

5)    How are the utilities tracking fires and thermal incidents originating in the vicinity of smart meters?

BC Hydro stated it tracks incidents that occur during installation but does not track post installation incidents. (emphasis added)

FortisBC stated it tracks both installation and post-installation incidents. The review of the BC Safety Authority incident reports suggests that BC Hydro’s installation event tacking system has not captured all of the events.

  • Significant evidence has been provided to refute the assertion that BC tracks incidents during installation.
  • This admission by BC Hydro that it does not track post installation incidents is concerning. Why isn’t BC Hydro tracking post installation incidents?

Any competent company would want to know failure rates of products it has purchased. Are they not sharing information that they don’t want BCUC or the public to know?

Is BC Hydro allowing ITRON to track so it can say BC Hydro is not aware of any failed meter or one that has caused a fire?

If BC Hydro is not tracking and has no statistics regarding failed, burned and meters that caused fires,  then the competence of BC Hydro must be questioned.

  • Could BCUC please share the details of the post-installation incidents reported by FortisBC?

Comment: This subject of incomplete statistics for electrical service point-related incidents needs to be examined by third party experts and needs to be rectified before any general conclusions are drawn about the frequency and severity of incidents.    

6)    Are fires and thermal incidents originating in the vicinity of smart meters being adequately investigated?

Due to the confluence of safety mandates at the meter/meter socket interface there is a risk that safety investigations are missed or interfered with by other parties.  Fire departments are tasked with identifying that electrical equipment may be a cause of a fire and notifying the BC Safety Authority. Likewise, electrical contractors are also required to notify the BC Safety Authority of any incidents of equipment damage involving the meter socket. The evidence reviewed suggests that BC Hydro and FortisBC primarily rely on the investigations of other agencies to determine the cause of incidents. The BC Safety Authority has the expertise including electrical fire forensics to conduct thorough incident investigations of electrical equipment but does not have a direct mandate to investigate meter incidents. However, the BC Safety Authority does indirectly investigate meter incidents through its mandate to investigate meter socket incidents   (emphasis added)

  • BCUC is allowing BC Hydro to shed its responsibility for knowing if smart meters are safe or not by saying it relies on other agencies.   BC Hydro has been given the responsibility for determining what standards. Point 8 (below) says:

BC Hydro determines what physical and safety standards its meters meet and the certification method

  • It seems that BCUC and BC Hydro believe that BC Hydro should be allowed to have it both ways: it sets its own standards but is not held responsible when its standards are not sufficient to ensure public safety
  • BCSA — the agency with the expertise to investigate electrical incidents involving smart meters —  has its hands tied. It has been told it cannot get involved with smart meters or the program. Moreover, it is not called on a consistent basis to investigate incidents, and in many cases instances when it is, the smart meter has been removed. Several regulations are being disregarded leaving no agency to investigate this potentially dangerous device that is put on homes.
  • Given the acknowledgement that the investigations are not complete, and that there is a systemic breakdown in tracking, reporting and oversight, what does BCUC recommend be done?

Comment: Correspondence suggests a fundamental shortfall in the reporting methodology and the level of intelligent data produced.

Electricians are required to get a permit from the BC Safety Authority before starting repair  work on a meter socket which if the process works as intended prevents them from conducting work before an investigation is completed BC Hydro and FortisBC personnel or contractors are exempt from the BC Electrical Safety Regulation and do not require a permit from BC Safety Authority to conduct meter repair work and may be unaware of a pending BC Safety Authority investigation. If a meter involved in a safety incident were to be removed by BC Hydro or anyone else prior to BC Safety Authority completing its investigation the BC Safety Authority investigator would be expected to make note of the removal in the investigation report. Of the 13 BC Safety Authority reports reviewed 4 of them noted the meter was removed prior to BC Safety Authority’s investigation.   In 2 of these cases the property owner’s electrical equipment was also repaired and in 2 cases the meter was removed presumably by BC Hydro without repair work being done on the property owner’s electrical equipment.    (emphasis added)

  • Why are meters being allowed to be removed with impunity? In fact, the Fire Commissioner and BCSA told me that BCHydro was allowed to remove the meters because it was “their equipment”.  Fire scenes are considered a crime scene until an investigation determines otherwise. Evidence is being removed. And why is Hydro doing this? Why are they preventing an inspector from determining if the meter is a factor in the fire or not.
  • There is no coordination between and among agencies, and no oversight. No one is in charge, leaving the public with a device that is potentially dangerous on homes without choice, without protection.