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SaskPower CEO out after report: ‘consumer safety not a priority’

WATCH ABOVE: Global’s Mike McKinnon has more on the ‘red flags’ it appears SaskPower ignored.

REGINA – An investigation into Saskatchewan’s new smart meters causing fires is complete – and has concluded that SaskPower did not give enough priority to customer safety.

On the heels of this report SaskPower CEO Robert Watson has resigned from his position with the company.

During June and July of 2014, there were eight different cases where smart meters caught fire, leading to the suspension of the entire program.

“Customer safety does not appear to have been a consideration until after reports of smart meter fires involving Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) arose,” independent experts at the law firm Robertston Stromberg found. “It did not become a matter of central importance until June of 2014.”

PwC was asked to review the procurement and contract management. Consulting engineering company Ritenburg and Associates of Regina was asked to examine the technical and safety issue, and the law firm Robertson Stromberg was commissioned to look at legal and product liability issues.

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The initial study showed that rainwater and contaminants getting into the meter appear to be a major factor in the smart meters failing.

Overall the study showed that SaskPower’s risk management process was lacking, and that contractor and employee safety was considered while customer safety was not given enough priority.

SaskPower also failed to listen to advice that they should be buying small batches of smart meters through a ‘stepped procurement’ process which would have allowed them to install gradually and watch for problems.

Instead, citing budget concerns, the Crown went on to buy over 100,000 meters in a three week period and initiated a full-scale installation program.

The companies responsible for the review also made the following recommendations:

Ritenburg:

  • Given the potential fire hazard, all of the existing Sensus meters should be removed before next spring and potentially rainy weather;
  • Those meters should be examined for arcing or other problems when they come out, to establish more information;
  • When installing meters, more site photos should be taken in case the scene has to be analyzed after any future failures; and
  • All meter incidents should be reported and a data base created.

PwC:

  • SaskPower should have specific guidelines for identifying and operating high-risk procurement projects;
  • SaskPower needs a more formal “process safety management” program to ensure customer safety is paramount;
  • There should be a single “contract owner” for important, complex projects with a specific risk management process built in; and
  • Clearly identify the roles and responsibilities for the management of enterprise risks relevant to procurement.

Robertson Stromberg:

When buying such a large amount of one item, vendor should consider buying product liability insurance to cover the buyer in case of problems.

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SaskPower will implement all of the consultant’s recommendations and make sure all Sensus meters are removed from all Saskatchewan homes by March 15, 2015.

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