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ICC: ComEd smart meters not to blame for fires

ComEd smart meters are not to blame for overheating and fires that occurred in a pilot program, according to regulators, but rather loose connections and corrosion in customer-owned casings for those meters.

The findings come out of an investigation initiated by the Illinois Commerce Commission after three smart meters caught fire during the 2010 pilot program. The ICC also concluded that ComEd did not adequately train employees to install the meters.

ComEd on Tuesday began rollout of the meters to all 4 million customers. The installations are expected to continue until 2021.

Installers have received additional training to swap the analog meters for the digital ones, but they are not trained to perform extensive repairs to the old and deteriorated bases to which the meters are connected. Regulators say the fact that installers did not recognize, repair or report the poor conditions contributed to fires and overheating.

In a meeting last week, ComEd told regulators it has taken steps to prevent similar incidents. The utility said it has beefed up training so installers can identify issues that could lead to overheating before a new meter is installed. Third-party licensed electricians are then called out to make the repairs and are expected to arrive within an hour, according to ComEd.

“Although the meters are new, the meters are safe, the meter fitting or the meter socket where the meter is installed is typically an older piece of equipment,” said Mike McMahan, vice president of advanced metering infrastructure implementation for ComEd.

He said the fires that involved smart meters are not out of line with the usual number of fires ComEd might see at analog meters.

ComEd also began remotely checking the temperatures of smart meters daily, something that can’t be performed on analog meters. If a meter’s temperature reaches 160 degrees, ComEd sends out an inspector. Of the three “hot” meters ComEd has encountered since it began the scans in October 2012, none were caused by the meters and one was attributed to customer tampering, according to the ICC’s findings.

McMahan said old meters are being inspected by independent inspectors for heat damage.

They follow up to ensure that installers noticed and corrected abnormalities.

“If ComEd conducts adequate inspections and makes all necessary repairs, then fires associated with smart meter installation should no longer threaten ComEd customers,” according to the report.

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