SaskPower CEO resigns after smart-meters report
Published Monday, October 27, 2014 12:59PM EDT Last Updated Monday, October 27, 2014 10:20PM EDT
SaskPower president Robert Watson
REGINA -- The head of Saskatchewan's Crown power company resigned Monday following a report into smart-meter fires that said customer safety wasn't enough of a priority.
Economy Minister Bill Boyd said SaskPower CEO Robert Watson "took responsibility for the problems experienced with this project."
"(He) felt it was time that there was new leadership at SaskPower," said Boyd, who added that Mike Marsh, vice-president of operations, will step into the job for the interim.
Last summer, the province ordered SaskPower to remove more than 100,000 smart meters that had already been installed in homes after at least eight of the devices caught fire in June and July.
Boyd said it was evident for some time that there were problems with the meters.
"There was not enough consideration given to customer safety, the program was rushed and there (were) warning signs that were overlooked. It was clear that there was no one that was in overall charge of the program," the minister said.
Watson won't be receiving severance pay, Boyd said.
Saskatchewan's Crown Investment Corp. was directed to do a review after the fires. The investigation results released Monday found that rain water and contaminants getting into the meters appeared to contribute to them failing.
"In various parts of the province, eight meters failed catastrophically, melting or burning and in some cases damaging the sides of houses," the report said. The failures were not related to "hot sockets" or installation issues, it said.
The report also said SaskPower failed to look at the possibility that the meters could short out and catch fire.
Boyd said the government is taking the review's findings seriously and the Crown corporation will be directed to follow its recommendations. They include replacing all the meters that were provided by U.S. manufacturer Sensus. SaskPower is planning to remove meters by March 15.
Watson announced in September that Sensus was refunding $24 million for all the smart meters the province purchased. That covered all devices that were installed and had to be removed, as well as those that hadn't been put in yet.
Watson said Sensus was also giving SaskPower $18 million in credit for new meters, and another $5 million was to go toward developing a device suited to the Saskatchewan climate.
The NDP Opposition is asking for an independent investigation by the provincial auditor. New Democrat finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said the report is "damning."
"This government simply didn't have the consideration of the safety of Saskatchewan people, which is appalling in and of itself," said Wotherspoon, who added that the problems with the meters were "concealed."
"They rejected looking into the examples in other jurisdictions -- Alabama and Philadelphia -- where there was meter failure going on with the very meters that this government was putting taxpayers on the hook to pay."
Wotherspoon said while the government claims to have recouped costs from the program, "millions of dollars (have been) wasted."
A smart meter records consumption of energy in small intervals and can relay the information electronically to a utilities company. It eliminates the need to estimate bills when a meter reader can't do an on-site check.