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[October 09, 2012]
After tests, Peco to resume smart-meter installations
Oct 09, 2012 (The Philadelphia Inquirer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Peco Energy Co., which suspended a $650 million smart-meter installation program in August after several of the devices caught fire, announced Tuesday it will resume the ambitious program using meters that perform "better." The Philadelphia utility said it plans to replace the remaining 96,000 meters of the type that had been linked to 30 incidents involving overheating and sparking. Two of the incidents resulted in fires that spread beyond the meter, but no injuries.
Peco hired two independent consultants and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to examine the meters after it suspended installations. The test results convinced the utility to swap out all the meters manufactured by Sensus Metering Systems Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., with those made by a Swiss vendor, Landis & Gyr AG.
"We determined that the L&G meter is the best solution for Peco customers, that it performed better in the field, and that was confirmed by testing," said Cathy Engel Menendez, Peco's spokeswoman.
At the time it suspended the program, Peco had installed 201,642 meters, including 186,000 Sensus meters. Since August, Peco replaced about half the Sensus meters.
The decision is a setback for the utility's "smart grid" program to update its distribution system, which is supported by a $200 million federal stimulus grant. Under terms of the U.S. Energy Department grant, Peco promised to install 600,000 smart meters by April, 2014.
Smart meters are equipped for two-way wireless communication with the utility, allowing for more sophisticated management of the electric grid. The devices also take frequent readings, allowing suppliers to offer hourly pricing options to customers who want to shift their consumption to cheaper off-peak hours.
Peco and other Pennsylvania utilities are required to install the smart meters under the 2008 state energy conservation law known as Act 129.
The utility was careful to not blame the meters for the fires, nor to disparage Sensus, which remains as the utility's contractor that designed the smart-grid system behind the smart meters.
A spokesman for Sensus, which is privately held, said the company was disappointed that Peco was no longer using its meters, but insisted the devices are safe.
"All of the investigations we've seen have proven the meter is not the problem, the Sensus meter is not a problem," said Randolf Wheatley, the company's vice president of corporate marketing.
Sensus is one of the leading manufacturers of smart meters. It has installed 10 million devices nationwide, including 2 million of the same model that Peco had bought.
Officials earlier had indicated the meter problems were linked to faulty connections between the devices and the meter boards to which they are attached with four metal prongs. Experts suggested that poor connections caused electrical resistance and overheating in the meter sockets, which caused the devices to fail.
Although the meter boards are considered customer-owned equipment, Peco said it stepped up efforts to look for faulty sockets during the installation process and to repair them.
Peco said it will replace the remaining previously installed 96,000 meters during the next 45 days and would then resume its meter installation work.
Customers will receive two letters and a telephone call beginning about six weeks prior to receiving a new meter.
"We have taken unprecedented steps to test our meters," Peco president Craig Adams said in a statement. Peco did not immediately release the results of its independent tests, which were conducted by Exponent Engineering and Scientific Consulting, of Menlo Park, Calif., and the National Electric Energy Testing Research and Applications Center (NEETRAC), which is affiliated with the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which conducted an informational meeting in September on Peco's smart-meter crisis, said its investigation of the utility's management of its smart meter program is still underway.
"The PUC is continuing with its review of Peco's actions surrounding the installation and failures of its advanced meters," said Jennifer Kocher, the commission's spokeswoman.
"The decision to suspend the installation was self-imposed as is the decision to restart the installations. We will be monitoring the installations as part of our review." Customers with concerns about their smart meters can call Peco at 855-741-9011.
Contact Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947, @Maykuth on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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