Home > Electrical Fire, Home, Legal > MD: More on “Smart Meter” Electric Fires

MD: More on “Smart Meter” Electric Fires

Baltimore, MD:  The move­ment gath­ers out­side the Schae­fer Build­ing on August 28.  Hold­ing a sign decry­ing smart meters—the new “advanced” elec­tri­cal coun­ters util­i­ties around the coun­try are installing on people’s homes—is the last place George Karadi­mas expected to be dur­ing his retirement.  “I never knew any­thing about these things until March, April of this year,” the for­mer elec­tri­cal engi­neer and Elli­cott City res­i­dent says. “Then I hap­pened to get on an inter­net radio show about prob­lems peo­ple were hav­ing down in Texas, peo­ple who I hap­pened to per­son­ally know. So I lis­tened and I said ‘you’re off the wall.’ Then I stud­ied it and I started freak­ing out myself.”

Karadi­mas was among about two dozen anti-smart meter activists who packed a hastily-convened meet­ing of the Mary­land Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion August 28. The com­mis­sion, hav­ing read about smart meter electrical fires in Penn­syl­va­nia and PEPCO Energy Group’s deci­sion to sus­pend instal­la­tion of them, asked Mary­land util­i­ties for infor­ma­tion on their smart meter programs.  “This is a pre­lim­i­nary gath­er­ing,” PSC Chair­man Dou­glas Nazar­ian told the crowd in the 16th floor hear­ing room. “We’re not going to hear from other par­ties today.”

That dis­pleased the activists, one of whom, Har­ford County State Del­e­gate Glen Glass, issued a press release after­ward express­ing his dis­ap­point­ment. “The tes­ti­mony from BG&E and PEPCO con­firms that Smart Meters are dan­ger­ous, intru­sive, and have a ten­dency to break and over­heat,” Glass’s email said. “I call for a mora­to­rium to be placed on Smart Meter instal­la­tion due to these facts as well as reports that fires have been a result of these devices.”

The anti-smart-meter move­ment has been build­ing for sev­eral years, made up of peo­ple wor­ried about microwave radi­a­tion (“I’m chem­i­cally and electro-mechanically sen­si­tive,” one activist says) and the loss of pri­vacy inher­ent in the hourly read­ings the new meters will broad­cast back to the util­ity. The meters are meant to pave the way for per-hour changes in elec­tric­ity pric­ing and goad cus­tomers into reduc­ing their usage dur­ing higher-priced times of the day. That ele­ment of the plan—and the fact that it would shift the risk of higher energy prices from the util­ity (which was con­ceived in part to mit­i­gate that risk) to the cus­tomer base (which pays the util­ity to man­age that risk)—has been sel­dom crit­i­cized by the move­ment. The fires are a new thing.

Util­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tives told the com­mis­sion they had not expe­ri­enced any fires from the smart meter instal­la­tions yet, although BGE has installed 65,000 of the binder-sized devices, PEPCO about 186,000.  BGE has replaced five meters that sig­naled high tem­per­a­tures (just under the boil­ing point of water), but has had no fires and no fail­ures, says Michael Butts, BGE’s direc­tor of busi­ness trans­for­ma­tion. Three of the hot meters had “loose jaws,” he said—the con­nec­tors where the new meters meet the elec­tri­cal box on the house.

Nei­ther com­pany uses the brand of meters—Sensus—that burned in Penn­syl­va­nia and which are sub­ject to a whistle­blower law suit in Alabama.

PEPCO had 15 over­heaters, and no fires, Karen Lefkowitz, PEPCO’s vice pres­i­dent of busi­ness trans­for­ma­tion said. Most of the prob­lems there were at the con­nec­tion to the house. “It’s the exchange process that intro­duces some risk,” she told the commissioners.

The old meters are taken out “hot”—with the power still run­ning. Then the new meters are plugged in. The sock­ets in the houses, some of which may be decades old, do not always take kindly to such tam­per­ing. If the power going through them at the time of the swap is high, it may arc, pit­ting the wires and caus­ing a hot spot. If the arc­ing continues—or starts up later because of a loose connection—the new meters, which are mostly plas­tic, can burst into flames.

It’s rare, but it happens.

“I have an unbi­ased opin­ion. I’m for tech­nol­ogy. But the way this tech­nol­ogy has been imple­mented has caused a dis­as­ter,” Karadi­mas says.

Story via citypaper.com

 

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