August 7, 2014 8:03 pm

Smart meter debacle: more questions than answers

REGINA – Replacing 105,000 smart meters in Saskatchewan still has the crown electrical utility on the defensive.

“I don’t know what we’d do differently,” SaskPower CEO Robert Watson said Wednesday. “I think they’re going to find through the review that all due diligence was done.”

As the province investigates the failed SaskPower smart meter program, now with nine reported incidents – including at least one fire, Global News takes a look back at the program’s recent timeline:

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Fall 2013: installation

The first wave of the advanced metering technology was installed late last year, part of a nearly $200 million commitment by SaskPower to outfit every home in the province.

Customers were promised more efficient and accurate monitoring of power usage in the province.

May 14, 2014: problems arise

Fast forward to this May, when the first incident linked to smart meters was reported. A Regina family was forced from their home due to a fire. SaskPower says it was a short circuit during installation.

July 10: installation halted

Two months later, a total of six incident had been reported – several blamed on meter socket failure. SaskPower put smart meter installations on pause, but the crown stood by the new technology.

Critics pointed to the installers themselves, saying loopholes were used to employ under qualified workers.

“We’re not skirting anything,” Watson told Global News on July 16. “These are fully trained, capable installers.”

July 30: cancellation

Two weeks after, the government pulled the plug and ordered SaskPower to replace the already-installed smart meters with the previous model. The bill for that decision was later revealed to be $47 million, but premier Brad Wall promised customers wouldn’t bear the cost.

The tab is being absorbed in SaskPower’s 2014 budget. An electrical rate increase of 5.5 per cent had been approved, in part, to pay for new infrastructure. SaskPower says it may now have to delay some of those projects.

August 3: Sensus responds

Sensus Corp., the smart meter manufacturer, released a statement denying responsibility for the failed units. In it, Sensus pointed to external factors such as water intrusion due to holes in meter boxes and hot socket conditions.

August 5: saying sorry

An apology was issued by Watson, saying, “Despite assurances, the smart meters clearly did not meet our standards – nor did they meet the expectations of our customers. I want you to know my family has a smart meter on our home. I understand how important it is for you to know your home is safe.”

Today: what’s next?

Watson told reporters Wednesday there haven’t been discussions with Sensus, since the units were ordered to be replaced. When asked if negotiations with the company could end up in court, Watson said no.

On Thursday, a government spokesperson told Global News legal action could still be possible.

While two separate companies look into what happened with the failed units, a much larger probe is still to come. It’ll be done by the government’s Crown Investments Corporation instead of abiding the opposition’s request for an investigation by the provincial auditor.

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