Smart meter installations have caused no fires or damage in the thousands of Maryland homes and businesses where they have been installed, executives of four electric utilities, including Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric, told the state's Public Service Commission last week.
The electric utilities, except Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, have been approved to swap customer analog meters with digital advanced meters that collect and relay data by radio wave.
SMECO, which is doing limited pilot installations, and Delmarva Power officials joined Pepco and BGE executives at the Aug. 28 PSC session in Baltimore.
The regulatory panel summoned the utility executives to Baltimore after learning last month that utility PECO had suspended smart meter installations in Pennsylvania because the meters had overheated at 15 locations where meters were installed.
Neither Pepco, its sister utility Delmarva nor BGE used the Sensus brand meters that were associated with fires among PECO's Pennsylvania customers, their executives said.
SMECO has used Sensus brand meters in its pilot, its chief operating officer Ken Capps told the regulatory panel.
Utility representatives said they believe high temperature readings they have received from the data-transmitting meters mostly were related to bad connections that occurred after old analog meters were removed and new meters replaced them.
Bad connections create resistance that can cause overheating, they said.
“There's always some risk of a fire when you are doing a meter exchange; I think it's a low risk [and] I think we've mitigated that risk successfully,” said Karen Lefkowitz, Pepco's vice president of business transformation.
Both Pepco and BGE use meters manufactured by Landis & Gyr, and Pepco also uses some General Electric meters.
A sensor in the meter sends an alert to the utility when it reaches 95 degrees Centigrade, a temperature about 10 degrees above the chip's normal operating range, Lefkowitz said.
Both Pepco and BGE send out crews to check the meters as soon as the temperature alert is received.
It usually takes about 30 minutes for a crew to arrive, but that depends on where they must travel, BGE Vice President Michael Butts said.
Analog meters also can overheat, and about two analog meters per year have overheated among BGE's 1.25 million customers, he said.
Pepco has received 15 high temperature alerts, representing only about 0.004 percent of meters installed, Lefkowitz said. BGE's 15 high temperature alerts represent about 0.008 percent, Butts said.
In Pennsylvania, among customers of PECO — which like BGE, is owned by Exelon — two fires resulted from overheating Sensus brand meters, PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez said in an interview Aug. 29.
Among the 15 Sensus meters that overheated, some had “flashes” and some got hot enough that the meter melted, Engel Menendez said.
Representatives of the Maryland utilities and PECO said they have trained installers to look for potential problems with existing wiring and connections when mounting the new meters.
Investigations of six of the PECO meter overheating cases are complete and showed that some were caused by electric wiring that did not meet code and ground settling that resulted in a bad connection, Engel Menendez said.
To avoid problems, PECO has made free repairs to more than 4,500 pieces of customer equipment, she said.
Although PECO has installed 186,000 Sensus meters, it is switching to Landis & Gyr meters, she said.
In an email response Aug. 29, Sensus spokeswoman Linda Palmer pointed to “existing conditions with equipment at a customer's property” as the cause for overheating in cases investigated.
Maryland opponents of the advanced meters, which use radiowaves to transmit data from the customer site to the utility, are calling for a moratorium on installing them.
In addition to the potential fire risk, opponents say that the meters make the power grid vulnerable to malefactors who could cause large outages.
They also say the meters would not save customers money, could interfere with medical equipment, could provide data to allow surveillance and could pose a health risk because of radiation.
“I think people should be afraid of this stuff,” said Jonathan Libber, president of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, during a protest before last week's PSC hearing.