The BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) has rejected a citizen’s complaint that faulty smart meters have caused house fires. But the regulator did find gaps in BC Hydro and FortisBC’s fire reporting and demanded immediate improvement.
In a July 28 decision, BCUC ordered BC Hydro and FortisBC to report to the BCUC all incidents where a meter and/or meter base are “reasonably assessed to be the possible or likely source of a high temperature or fire event” that results in the meter or its base needing replacement.
“All such incidents must be reported to the appropriate authority or authorities for investigation, as appropriate,” said the BCUC order. “If no such authority is appropriate, then the utility must conduct its own investigation as to the cause of the incident.”
BCUC ordered the utilities to report each incident semi-annually. The first report is due by the end of January 2017. It acknowledged BC Hydro and FortisBC data could be improved, based on BC Hydro’s own submission that it does not track post-installation incidents and that the Office of the Fire Commissioner does not have a category for meter fires. The reports to BCUC must state whether each incident was a fire or high temperature event, and whether each incident occurred during installation, replacement or post-meter installation.
Smart meters opponent Sharon Noble, who filed the complaint, wonders what will change. She wanted an independent investigator or engineer to be appointed to get to the bottom of the problem.
“If BC Hydro is flouting the laws now, not reporting them, not tracking them, removing meters from the scene of fires, why should we believe they’re going to be tracking them anyway?” Noble said. “They didn’t know these gaps existed until I raised them. Shouldn’t they have?”
BC Hydro spokeswoman Simi Heer said the utility would comply with the BCUC order.
FortisBC spokesman Michael Allison said, “FortisBC is compliant and will continue tracking any issues related to electrical meters post-installation.”
He claimed the company has done so since it began installation in 2014.
Noble complained to the BCUC about eight fire incidents connected to smart meters. The BCUC instead relied on data for a five-year period from the Office of the Fire Commissioner included in an August 2015 report by Len Garis, the Surrey fire chief and adjunct criminology professor in the University of the Fraser Valley. The BCUC concluded that “at this time, there is no evidence that smart meters materially increase the risk of fires in B.C. over analog and digital meters.”
“The panel does not consider this to show a material difference between fires possibly related to analog and digital meters and those possibly related to smart meters,” said the BCUC report. “The panel also takes note that the number of fires in 2015  is lower than pre-smart meter deployment numbers in 2011 .”
BC Hydro began installing smart meters in 2012 under a $1 billion program to increase energy efficiency, sparking customer fears of billing and rate hikes, loss of privacy and harms to health. In July 2013, responding to pressure from nearly 70,000 holdouts, Hydro allowed those with old meters to keep them and others to accept new smart meters with the radio function disabled.
By December 2013, 20,000 of BC Hydro’s 1.9 million customers had opted out and agreed to pay the additional fees for manual meter reading.
On July 12, BC Supreme Court Justice Elaine Adair ruled that a lawsuit against BC Hydro based on Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – life, liberty and security of person – did not meet the standard for certification as a class action.
Adair said plaintiffs were free to continue their legal action against the Crown corporation individually.