Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Thursday, October 4, 2012
PUC calls meeting with PECO, smart meter vendors
Sunday, September 9, 2012
PECO Energy now confirms that 26 of its newly installed smart meters have overheated since March, but says not all the incidents resulted in fires and only three resulted in property damage beyond the area surrounding the meter.
The electric company is also in the process of replacing about 13,000 digital meters that failed to install the first of two wireless safety upgrades, spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez said. The upgrade automatically shuts off electric service if a meter problem is detected.
That automatic shutoff was not installed on smart meters that caught fire last week in Middletown and Bensalem, Engel Menendez confirmed.
“With a wireless communication, it is expected that not all meters would be reached, that is why we had the plan in place to proactively replace any that did not receive the enhancement,” Engel Menendez said.
PECO’s smart meter program came under scrutiny last month after some Bucks County fire marshals raised concerns about newly installed smart electric meters overheating and causing house fires. After the safety concerns went public, PECO on Aug. 15 temporarily suspended installing new smart meters.
The situation caught the attention of the Public Utilities Commission, which recently directed PECO to answer questions regarding its handling of the smart meter program to determine if there were any code violations. PECO’s deadline for those answers was Friday.
Also Friday, the regulatory agency announced it has scheduled a public briefing Thursday in Harrisburg where PECO officials and its smart meter vendors will be asked to provide an update on what it’s doing to resolve the fire safety issues with the meters.
PECO replaced 186,000 residential meters with the new models in Bucks and Northeast Philadelphia when it became aware of a pattern of overheating problems and stopped installation of Sensus meters, the model that experienced the problems.
Currently about 201,642 smart meters are in operations, and all but 46,316 are the Sensus models, according to PECO.
In its response to the PUC, PECO contends the L&G and Sensus meter models for residential properties both passed a third-party testing program that focused on potential overheating of the meter’s internal remote connect / disconnect switch “without issues.”
“At no point in the process was PECO made aware of potential issues involving meter overheating,” according to its response.
But the overheating issues have persisted since the installations were suspended almost a month ago.
Middletown reported its first smart meter-related fire Sept. 4, which left minor fire damage to the exterior of a home on Sycamore Ridge Drive, Middletown Fire Marshal James McGuire said. The electric meter was replaced sometime in the spring, McGuire said.
Bensalem has reported three smart meter related fires since April — the most recent early Thursday on the 1800 block of Park Avenue. The home sustained minor damage, fire officials said. The meter had been replaced in late June or early July.
Similar fires involving smart meters have been reported in Bristol Township, Upper Makefield and Lower Makefield. In the Upper Makefield fire, it was determined a failed positive connection on the meter caused a fire last month.
Regulators in other states, including Illinois and Maryland, are also investigating allegations of dangerously overheating electric smart meters and reports of meter fires.
In its PUC response, PECO says preliminary investigation results found that more than half the meter overheating incidents involved pre-existing problems with customer equipment, installation or water intrusion issues. Investigations into 12 other overheating incidents are continuing.
PECO has retained two independent experts for additional forensic analysis and testing focused on evaluating meter performance, according to its PUC response. It has also replaced more than 30,000 Sensus meters with L&G models to determine if they perform differently.
A second remotely installed safety upgrade for Sensus meters began Thursday and it includes an early alarm signal to PECO if something wrong is detected in the electric meter. The upgrade should be completed by Sept. 12, Engel Menendez said.
PECO is required to replace the electric meters of its 1.6 million business and residential customers in the Philadelphia region and part of York County as part of a 2008 Pennsylvania energy efficiency law. The law requires all Pennsylvania utilities to update meter technology to encourage energy conservation.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter@jociavaglia