PECO halts ‘smart-meter’ installations amid fire concerns

In light of recent safety concerns, PECO is temporarily pulling the plug on electric “smart” meter installations occurring throughout the Philadelphia region. The delay impacts residents in Germantown and East Falls.

As reported by Newsworks on Tuesday, a Bucks County Fire Marshall indicated this week that more than a dozen fires in his district were linked to recently-installed meters.

As a result, PECO will be suspending installations until they can determine the exact cause of the fires. To date, 186,000 meters have been installed.

Investigations ongoing

Cathy Engel-Menendez, a PECO spokeswoman, confirmed that overheating has occurred at 15 locations. Of these, six investigations have been completed, with the results indicating that customer’s electrical systems are to blame.

While noting that similar installation problems are not uncommon throughout the industry, Engel-Menendez said that PECO will not install any additional meters until the remaining nine investigations are concluded.

Speaking for the Philadelphia Fire Department, Executive Chief Richard Davison said that he is not aware of any fires in the city stemming from the new meters.

Of PECO’s precautionary measures, Engel-Menendez said, “We’re extremely safety focused.”

Northwest Philly impact

This decision will impact some residents of Northwest Philadelphia, many of whom are included in the first deployment of 600,000 smart meters scheduled to be installed by Oct. 2013.

It’s part of a “phased approach” that began in Bucks County and Northeast Philadelphia and will ultimately supply PECO’s 1.6 million customers with new meters.

The initiative stems from Pennsylvania’s Act 129 of 2008, a bill that imposed new requirements on electric distribution companies, including the installation of new “smart” meters.

The $650 million project was kick-started with $200 million in federal stimulus money, with customers picking up the difference in their monthly electric bills.

Residents of zip codes 19129 and 19144 – East Falls and Germantown, respectively – were scheduled to have their meters installed by the end of November. Some residents there have already received visits from installation subcontractor Grid One Solutions.

Other Northwest zip codes have not yet been scheduled.

Engel-Menendez said that residents of these areas will experience a “slight delay” as PECO works with its vendors to analyze the meters and install upgrades, to include an automatic shut-off and an early warning alarm. These upgrades are expected to be completed by early September.

Working together with the vendors, she said, “will help us determine how to install all meters going forward.”

The photograph which initially accompanied this story was not one of the meters being investigated in relation to fire hazards. NewsWorks apologizes for the confusion.

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