One of four BC Hydro Smart Meters installed in a utility room attached to Supreme Convience market in Port Hardy burned early Tuesday morning

Fire in smart meter knocks out store’s power

Cause of outage under investigation, BC Hydro says

PORT HARDY—A Smart Meter installed at Supreme Convenience Market was left blackened early Tuesday morning in an outage that knocked out power to much of the business for several hours before a BC Hydro employee and a local electrician were able to restore it later in the day.

The meter was one of four Smart Meters, serving nearby businesses, installed in March in a utility room adjacent to the store’s video rental facility.

After power went out at around 7:30 a.m., store manager Tracy Kozak first checked all the breakers, then called BC Hydro.

“I got through to their switchboard and the lady told me she wasn’t showing anything at their end, and it must be something wrong here,” Kozak said.

She then contacted building owner Paul Tupper, who arrived and opened the utility room housing the electric meters and panels.

They discovered the glass cover of one of the meters blackened, and a burned smell lingering in the air. The smell could also be detected in the video store, at the wall backing onto the electrical room.

“We’re going to investigate to see what the cause was,” BC Hydro spokesman Ted Olynyk said. “There may have been an underlying problem with regards to the wiring, but this is not a case of a Smart Meter causing a problem. It’s a result of the change-out.”

Olynyk said BC Hydro has installed 1.4 million Smart Meters across the province and will eventually have 1.8 million of the devices monitoring usage in B.C. homes and businesses.

He said post-installation problems have been encountered in “about a thousand” of the installations, but said they have been with wiring or other electrical problems, and not with the meters themselves.

BC Hydro has contracted with Vancouver-based Corix to install the controversial meters, which are replacing existing analog and digital meters throughout the province. The installers are not themselves electricians, Olynyk admitted.

“Our installers are trained to look for problems that might impact the installation, and if they find something they call in a certified electrician to look at it,” Olynyk said “If it’s something hidden in the customer’s meter base it might be challenging to determine.”

As one example, Olynyk cited cases where customers found out only during a Smart Meter installation that a prior owner had altered the wiring in the home for a grow op or other personal reason, changes that would not have been picked up without the changeover.

“In effect, we’re performing 1.4 million safety audits,” he said. “Before, with the analog or digital meters, we would change out about 40,000 a year. We’re seeing more issues now because they’re all being changed.”

Tuesday’s outage at Supreme Convenience was a partial outage, but it was enough to imapct the business for several hours.

Power remained on in a back room, several overhead light panels, and the store’s open signs. But power to the cash registers and debit/credit terminals was out, along with several ice cream machines. The store was forced to do cash-only business, with transactions recorded by pencil and paper.

“We’ve definitely lost business,” Kozak said. “Not to mention if we lose any product.”

Coincidentally, Kozak said, during the outage some BC Hydro employees entered another Supreme Convenience outlet in the Comox Valley where owner Jim Cameron was working, and he described the issue to them.

They contacted the local BC Hydro contractor, who was en route on the ferry from Alert Bay at the time and who then made his way to Port Hardy. At about 10:30 a.m. he arrived at the store to find wiring leading to the box had been damaged in the fire.

A local electrician with K&K Electric was called in and the two worked to replace the meter and restore power.

“We’re thankful for the prompt response of BC Hydro and K&K Electric,” Cameron said.

When the Smart Meters were installed earlier this year, Kozak said, one failed almost immediately. It was replaced and there was no further problem until this week.

On Monday, she said, power to part of the store went out for about 10 minutes, but came on by itself before employees were able to speak to anybody at BC Hydro. Staff did not give that outage another thought until Tuesday morning’s problem.

Kozak, who said she has been working at Supreme Convenience “off and on” for six years, said the business never suffered a meter-related power failure with the older analog meters.

Olynyk said BC Hydro would speak to the electrician who made the repairs to help determine the cause of the apparent fire and outage. In the meantime, he said, the store will not have to pay for Tuesday’s repair and meter replacement.

“In this situation, it’s something BC Hydro will take care of,” he said.