Smart meter installation: is Hydro-Québec falling foul of building regs?

Quebec smart meter installation
Smart meter installation: Hydro-Québec has found nearly 25,000 meters in its service area that don’t meet local building regulations for distance from a propane tank

In North American news, Canadian utility Hydro-Québec has uncovered smart meter installation problems.

In the French Canadian province of Québec, local media report that nearly 25,000 homes have a non-compliant smart meter installation.

Utility Hydro-Québec has confirmed that 24,760 households within its service territory have a smart meter installed too close to a stationary tank of propane.

The installations do not meet Québec’s building regulations, known as the Régie du Bâtiment (RBQ), which stipulate a clearance distance of at least 3 metres (10 feet) between a smart meter and a fixed propane tank, excluding barbecue cylinders.

The RBQ has said the remote disconnect function of a smart meter could trigger electric arcs in the presence of propane in the air, which could cause a fire.

Assessing smart meter installations

Hydro-Québec started a survey of its 2 million installed meters in Q1 2014.

The utility has since commissioned researchers at the provincial research institute, IREQ, to determine if the meters represent a real risk near propane tank.

Spokesperson for Hydro-Québec Serge Abergel told local media this week that: “The test phase is completed. The findings are being drafted. Preliminary results should be available by the end of the summer.”

Once the results are known, Hydro-Québec will hold discussions with the RBQ and the Quebec Association of propane.

In the meantime, Hydro-Québec said it had disabled the remote disconnect function of all smart meters installed in Québec.

The RBQ has said it will wait for the test results before issuing non-compliance orders to homeowners.

Smart meter rollout challenges

In June 2014, public utility Hydro-Québec kick started phase two of its four-year deployment of 3.8 million smart meters.

Since then it has met with stumbling blocks including facing accusations in November 2014 from a consumer group that two-way metering technology is resulting in more customers being disconnected.

Consumer protection group Union des Consommateurs expressed concerns about the number of disconnections in 2014 and pointed to smart meters making it easier for the utility to cut electricity.

The consumer group estimates that between January 1 to September 30, 2014, Hydro-Québec cut power to 51,015 homes and businesses, with about 37,000 clients being cut off.

Hydro-Québec hit back by saying that the number of customers disconnected is the same as in 2012, and most have had their electricity reconnected.

Hydro-Québec spokesman Patrice Lavoie said the colder winter in 2013-14 might have had an impact on clients’ electricity consumption, and consequently their bills were higher.

The utility has also faced local resistance to its smart meter programme despite only 1% of its customer base opting to use an analogue meter.