Report on fire and electrical hazards of “Smart” and other digital meters – Part 3

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Fire and Electrical Hazards from ‘Smart’, Wireless, PLC, and Digital Utility Meters – Part 3

Nina Beety
July, 2019
PDF of full report

Continued from Part 2…

Flawed FCC requirements and testing

Isotrope, LLC: 1

Conclusions in this report include the observation that [FCC] Part 15 radiated–‐ and conducted–‐emissions testing of electrical meters does not replicate actual conditions because a power cord is attached to the meter socket in the test chamber rather than simulating the installation of the meter on a meter socket connected to both the power grid secondary and the residence distribution panel. Moreover, while the conducted emissions from the meter at 915 MHz ISM frequencies in a residence was observed to be substantial, FCC Part 15 regulations limit conducted emissions testing to 30 MHz, ignoring the conducted emissions of the AMR radio signal.

7. Summary Conclusions

AMR Conducted Emissions Are Strong, but Not Regulated. The conducted emissions of the AMR electric meters at the 915 MHz band are substantial, but are not regulated by Part 15 (which cuts off above 30 MHz). If the 30 MHz limit were applied to 915 MHz, it is probable that the meter would fail a lab test, subject to the following observation.

AMR Meter Lab Testing Fails to Simulate in Situ Wiring. The lab testing of the AMR meters employed a simple power cord temporarily attached to the meter mounted in a panel. The meter does not normally employ a power cord. This approach does not simulate the manner in which the house wiring feeds through the electric meter. The meter has two power connections: one entering the meter typically from the top to deliver power to the meter and another exiting the bottom of rear of the meter panel to supply power to the main breaker panel. Using a power cord instead of setting up the power wiring the way the device is actually used may not reveal how the house circuit wiring through the meter may act. The actual in situ wiring may be more like an antenna that may pick up unwanted RF energy and noise within the meter and conduct it into the residence. See photo appended to this report [p. 15-16]

Other noise frequencies above 30 Hz caused by the switched mode power supply would not be regulated by FCC Part 15 either.

Inadequate worker qualifications and training, poor installation quality

PG&E hired the company Wellington to install most Smart Meters. Wellington hired people who were not electricians and gave them a minimum of training on how to remove the analog electric meters and install gas and electric Smart Meters. Installers were paid per meter they installed and were also awarded bonuses for exceeding quotas. They incentivized installing meters as quickly as possible. This was true of other utility companies in the U.S. and other countries. Many times these contractors would not notify building occupants they were installing meters and disconnecting the electricity, endangering the people in the building or home. There were also accounts of contractors removing the meters under load – not disconnecting the electricity at all. This is a fire risk and a very hazardous procedure.

The Saskatchewan provincial government changed the law to allow SaskPower to use unqualified workers to install Smart Meters.2 This was discovered through Freedom of Information requests. “(International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) IBEW Local 2067 originally fought the exemption, saying it had ‘serious reservations about the potential for injury or property damage and the lack of qualified supervision.’ The change went ahead anyway. On March 1 this year [2014], the meter replacement workers were brought into the union, their safety training “beefed up,” and wages and benefits increased.”3

Tennessee IBEW local 1288 strongly opposed Smart Meters over the high program costs, fire danger, overbilling by the meters, loss of jobs and value of on-site inspections.4

However, in California and other areas, IBEW actually promoted Smart Meters and the temp jobs at public city and county hearings, and opposed Smart Meter moratoriums.

IBEW supported unskilled workers installing Smart Meters. Why? Because “the meter replacement workers were brought into the union.” How much did utility companies and contractors pay IBEW to enroll installers as temporary union members? Which state officials gave these temp workers a qualifications waiver from state safety rules?

A former Wellington worker talked with Stop Smart Meters! in 2011:

SSM: The FCC requires that these devices be installed by trained professional electricians. What kind of training did you receive prior to working as a ‘smart’ meter installer?

WW: We received only two weeks of training before they sent us out to do the installations. Though the procedure is relatively simple, if you get it wrong this can lead to arcing, shorts- even house fires. The blades on the back of the meter have to be aligned properly with the jaws on the socket the meter gets placed in. I kept hearing one of the managers say, “you guys weren’t trained properly.” …There was a lot of pressure on workers to install as many meters as possible in a day in order to earn bonuses. I overheard numerous times while at work, “you could have burned that goddamned house down.”…The more you called Wellington, the worse it looked on your record- because you’re wasting time. I saw sparks coming from one of the meters on a home. I reported it but am not sure what- if anything- was done.5

A fire captain called PG&E when he had electrical problems following Smart Meter installation. A PG&E worker checked his electrical system.

He then proceeded to tell me that they were having nothing but problems with the contractor who was installing the meters and that it was costing PG&E more money to follow the contractors through each neighborhood and fix the problems they were causing and that the reason they did this is that PG&E didn’t want to pay its own workers wages and wanted a cheaper price…

He then went on, telling me that the burnt area was more than likely due to the contractors not being able to fit the new Smartmeter into place, so they widened the receiving clip and shoved it into place. By them widening the clips, they caused an area of no contact which then caused arcing every time we used an appliance with 220v.

…He then kept telling us more and more about all the problems and how this company only gave these people installing the meters two days of training and were hiring people who were not electricians. He also told us about injuries to contact [contract?] employees were receiving due to lack of training.6

Vulnerability to hacking

Cybersecurity has been a problem with Smart Meters from the beginning.

Reuters, 2014:

Traditionally, energy utilities have kept infrastructure like power plants safe from cyber attack by keeping it separate from the open Internet. But that is rapidly changing as a new generation of “smart” power meters hooks up customers to their utilities through the web,

…Last November, Felix Lindner came very close to shutting down the power supply of Ettlingen, a town of almost 40,000 people in the south of Germany. “We could have switched off everything: power, water, gas,” Lindner, head of Berlin-based Recurity Labs, an IT security company, said. Fortunately for residents, Lindner’s cyber attack on its energy utility, Stadtwerke Ettlingen, was simulated. But he revealed how easy it was to hack into the utility’s network through its IT grid, which gave him access to its control room.7

Interview with former CIA director James Woolsey:8

…What they’re doing now, they’re constructing what they call a “Smart Grid.” And they’re going to make it easier for you and me to call our homes on our cell phone and turn down our air-conditioning on a hot afternoon if we’re not there. Great, but that may well mean that a hacker in Shanghai with his cell phone could do the same thing or worse. And a so-called “Smart Grid” that is as vulnerable as what we’ve got is not smart at all, it’s a really, really stupid grid.
[ASSURAS] Vulnerabilities is what you’re telling me. We’re not taking care of them.
[WOOLSEY] We’re not.

A widespread hack in Puerto Rico allowed electricity theft and fraudulent bills.

Smart Meters allow access to energy data and use for surveillance, data alteration, and being able to shut-off power to individual meters, neighborhoods, or the grid itself.

Doug Powell, Manager of SMI Security, Privacy & Safety, Canadian utility BC Hydro:

Every endpoint [meter] is a new potential threat vector.9

Bloomberg, 2015:

’Introducing smart meters means you install access points to the electricity grid in private homes,’ said Reinhard Gruenwald, an energy expert at the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag, a scientific institution advising German lawmakers.10

This vulnerability brings fire and explosion risks, says Karthik Pattabiraman, 11 associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of British Columbia, discussing his recent published research on improving Smart Meter security:

Hacked meters can even cause house fires and explosions or even a widespread blackout. Unlike remote servers, smart meters can be relatively easily accessed by attackers, so each smart meter must be quite hackproof and resilient in the field.

Danger due to meter location

Sparks, Nevada fire chief Tom Garrison was interviewed on Nevada Smart Meter fires:

Fires sparked by smart meters can be dangerous because they often start outside of the house and cannot be detected by smoke detectors, Garrison said. “It can burn a long time and enter the attic or the walls,” Garrison said of a smart-meter blaze. “The occupants inside may not even be aware the house is on fire. This is very alarming to me.”12

Vibration and heat in building materials from RF emissions

Thermografix Consulting Corporation thermal radiation consultant and Red Seal journeyman electrician Curtis Bennett has measured heat buildup in buildings as a result of vibration caused by internal or external RF emissions. He has repeatedly warned that fire wall and structural integrity are being compromised by this exposure, and that this can lead to fire wall failure.13 He says building codes were designed to protect and shield building materials from 60 Hz electromagnetic fields and their impact on material integrity. Those fields vibrate molecules, changing molecular polarity at 120 times per second. This vibration also causes heat.

But, building codes were not designed for the much higher frequencies and vibration of wireless radiation exposure. PG&E electric Smart Meters constantly transmit at 924 MHz and 2.4 GHz for the Home Area Network. This high frequency radiation causes molecules in building materials, metal, and in the body to change polarity 1.8 billion times per second and 4.8 billion times per second. “There is a physical interaction with the frequencies at molecular levels affecting building code compliance by vibrating the building billions of times per second.”14 These exposures violate building codes which prohibit vibration.15

Accelerated corrosion

In metal, these near-field exposures can cause metal fatigue and rapid non-oxidative corrosion from electron-stripping.

Andrew Michrowski PhD:16

The rate of corrosion is directly proportional to the frequency of emissions – 3 GHz signals will corrode 10X faster than 300 MHz, and 500,000X faster than powerfrequency (60Hz) corroding water mains, gas pipelines, reinforced concrete re-bars, etc.

Violation of FCC Grants of Equipment Authorization

EMF Safety Network, California Public Utilities Commission, A.10-04-018 excerpts:

5. FCC Grants of Equipment Authorization, which govern the rules upon which FCC compliance is based, warns that RF exposure compliance depends on specific conditions.

6. Network has researched FCC conditions for the following meters that PG&E is deploying: FCC ID numbers OWS-NIC514, OWS-NIC507, and LLB6327PWM.

7. Network believes that PG&E Smart Meters violate one or more FCC conditions that determine RF exposure compliance. The conditions include one or more of the following, depending on the specific make and model of Smart Meter:
—-limited single module approval requires professional installation;
—-antenna(s) must provide a separation distance of at least 20 centimeters
(cm) from all persons;
—-antenna(s) must not be co-located or operating in conjunction with any
other antenna or transmitter;

8. I doubt that several weeks of installer training qualifies PG&E installers as professionals” and also doubts that Smart Meter installers are given accurate information about RF operating conditions.

9. Many PG&E Smart Meters are installed within 20 cm of public access. In some cases the meters are installed inside homes and businesses. In many situations Smart Meters are easily accessible to the public.

10. PG&E Smart Meters are widely co-located in banks of multiple meters.
Co-location also occurs within Smart Meters because electric Smart Meters include at least two internal RF antennas. One antenna is used for the mesh network system and the other is for Home Area Network (HAN) systems. Antennas are designed to work in conjunction with HAN and RF appliances and with other Smart Meters in a mesh network.

11. Antennas have separate Grants of Equipment Authorization, which suggests that manufacturers have tested antennas in isolation and individually, and not in combination, which is how the Smart Meter and the Smart Grid system were designed to operate…17 (emphasis added).

This lack of compliance may have electrical safety consequences.

Other fire-related issues with Smart or digital meters

Removing meters and hampering investigations

A fire scene is essentially a crime scene, and must be preserved pending investigation by fire personnel. However, PG&E and other utility companies are usually very quick to respond to incidents and pull off the meter and take it away. They often arrive at the fire scene before the fire department.18 Utility personnel do not let investigators examine meters, and they have even questioned the fire department’s authority to have the meter.

From Nevada:

In some cases, fire investigators who did respond had difficulty confiscating the burned meters as evidence.

“I notified (the NV Energy employee) that the smart meter remains were evidence for the investigation and would be logged in at the Sparks Police Department for investigation hold,” the Sparks investigator on a fire on Windswept Drive wrote. “(He) asked under what authority we have to keep their property.”19

From Quebec:

Quebec City’s fire department says Hydro-Québec has been too quick to remove smart meters from the scenes of fires where faulty wiring may be an issue.

The fire department says the meters are sometimes gone before investigators can look at them to find out whether their wires might have been damaged, which could lead to a short circuit and a fire.

“A fire is considered a crime scene and at a crime scene evidence should be left alone,” said France Voiselle, a department spokeswoman.

But Patrice Lavoie, a spokesman for Hydro-Québec, said the meters belong to the public utility and the meters don’t cause fires.

“We are totally entitled to bring them back to our office,” he said.20

Insurance adjuster Norman Lambe, New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission:

Q. What are some of the issues that have arisen from “smart” meter-caused fires?

A. In cases of fire involving “smart” meters, by the time a representative from the
insurance company arrives at the scene, the utility has already responded, usually during the course of the local fire department’s fire suppression efforts. Utility companies commonly remove the “smart” meter that had malfunctioned and/or ignited prior to completion of the necessary investigation into the cause of the fire. This hampers my ability to see that a proper investigation is performed for insurance purposes. This also complicates the job of Fire Marshals and/or fire department investigators. This may potentially also lead to a misdiagnosis by fire departments and insurance agencies and an undercounting of the total number of “smart” meter caused fires.

Utility companies have kept the “smart” meters, claiming that they are the company’s property, and they can do with them as they please. It can take me several months, if not years, to obtain the “smart” meter that is believed to be the same one involved in, and the primary cause of a particular fire. Thus, the timeframe required to perform the requisite analysis is substantially extended; consequently, fires caused by “smart” meters can be extremely challenging to investigate and resolve.

…(Claim number 2015-2031-77A)This case exemplifies the difficulty that we encounter when trying to obtain access to “smart” meters in order to perform a proper investigation. We still have not been permitted the opportunity to inspect the meter by Nevada Energy. Residents stated that the “smart” meter exploded. The inability to access the meters in “smart” meter fire cases is a consistent problem…(Re: Friars Village Shopping Mall) Please note that as of the date of this testimony, more than two years later, we have not yet been able to gain access to our insured’s “smart” meter in order to perform the requisite investigation.21

A fire broke out at a home In Firebaugh, California:

[Jose] Valdez and his family ran out and firefighters had already started pouring water on the house. 
He noticed several PG&E employees got there almost as quickly, and he says one of them removed the smart meter while the firefighters worked. Firebaugh’s fire chief saw it too. 
He says he [has] never seen that before, but he thinks he knows why they may have wanted the device. 
“Investigation after the fire was put out revealed that in all probability the fire was caused by a problem in the electrical panel and the problem in the electrical panel, in my belief, was the Smart Meter that was installed in the panel by PG&E,” said John Borboa.22

In Nevada:

The investigation files also offer evidence that the meter blazes could be more widespread than even fire investigators know. In the reports, NV Energy employees on the scenes of two of the fires told investigators that such blazes happened regularly.

In an interview last week, an electrician who helps NV Energy replace the meters told the Reno Gazette-Journal that often meters would be fixed before the fire department could even be called. The RGJ has withheld his name because he continues to do work for NV Energy and didn’t want to put his employment at risk.

“NV Energy was so quick in having me or one of the other guys out there that the fire department never knew about them,” he said. “We’d have the panel changed out and power turned on within five hours and a guy painting the wall right behind us.”

He said that he’s fixed 15 or 16 burned-out meters in the past two years in Reno, Sparks and Gardnerville.

“The fire department was never called on most of them. I only saw the fire department on two or three of them,” he said.

… Another worker on scene at that fire told Sparks investigators he “has been replacing about two smart meters a month that have failed and caused damage to the residential or commercial buildings.”

“NV Energy collects all the damaged smart meters and has not admitted to the problems with them,” he told investigators, according to the report.23

This situation is likely illegal, and utility workers and IBEW members are participating in the cover-up.

At a fire in June 2013, an NV Energy trouble technician told firefighters that exploding smart meters were a “big problem,” and that trouble technicians and meter technicians have opted out of having them installed on their own homes — which they did out of safety concerns as well as in protest to NV Energy’s decision to lay off meter readers once the smart meters were installed.24

Non-specific and inadequate fire coding

Complicating and impeding investigations and research is the lack of specific fire coding for fires related to Smart Meters. Coding is vague, and there is no coding for a Smart Meter or electric meter as primary or secondary cause.

A UK report said: “The current (CLG) Fire & Rescue Service Incident Recording System is not configured to capture specific details of fires originating in electrical equipment.”25

Punished whistleblowers

  • Oncor employee Bobby Reed testified before the Texas legislature about Smart Meter fires and was fired. The union filed a complaint with the NLRB.
  • PG&E meter reader Patrick Wrigley testified before CPUC Administrative Law Judge Amy Yip-Kikugawa that he was fired because he spoke up on meter inaccuracy. He also told her that PG&E knows Smart Meters cause fires.
  • Sensus: Engineer Don Baker was fired for warning of meter defects creating a fire hazard. He filed a qui tam lawsuit against Sensus, Alabama Power and Southern Company because he said they knew of the defects.26 U.S. DOJ refused to hear the case.

These whistleblowers were ignored.

Problems undercounted due to lack of proper investigation

The Canadian report by Ritenburg and Associates27 on SaskPower’s meter fires found malfunctioning meters were often not investigated. Instead, they were returned to the manufacturer for replacement. Meter malfunctions or issues were also not thoroughly recorded. The Ritenburg report has photos of meters tagged as “communication errors” but have signs of arcing on the circuit board.

Many more meters may be malfunctioning due to burgeoning conditions that can culminate in fire, but they are not being counted. Therefore, the true scope of the problem will not be known. This benefits meter manufacturers, utility companies, and states and provinces which bear the liability.

SaskPower told Ritenburg that it’s normal for communication to be lost with meters “for up to a day.” Ritenburg’s response: “This trend makes reporting of off-normal conditions on a timely basis somewhat unreliable.”

Saskatchewan ordered SaskPower to remove all its Smart Meters, and Ritenburg reported that SaskPower was simply disposing of the meters, not examining them for signs of degradation. This is unprofessional and lacking in any regard for public safety. It is likely common practice for most, if not all, utilities. How can the public trust these companies and workers to deliver gas and electricity safely to their communities?

Elimination of monthly inspections

Utility companies no longer visually inspect meters every month. Meter reader jobs were eliminated by Smart Meters, which wirelessly transmits customer usage data constantly instead. Labor cost-cutting was a key part of alleged program “benefits”. However, those monthly meter visits could identify meter safety issues. The public has repeatedly warned about this cost to public safety and opposed these job losses.

Increasing terpene production in surrounding trees due to stress

Studies have shown significant stress, injury, and death to trees from RF exposure due to cell towers and radar28, and the public has reported rapid negative health changes to trees following Smart Meter roll-outs. This occurred in Monterey. Trees produce terpenes — volatile oils that are aerosols — under normal conditions. When trees are stressed or injured, they emit more terpenes. Increased volatile oils due to wireless radiation exposure would create a more flammable environment for fire.

Inaction from fire safety administrators

Some fire and public safety officials have been outspoken about these fire and electrical hazards, and helpful in researching this issue, such as the 2017 testimony of retired fire captain Duane Roddy to the Michigan House Energy Committee. Others have kept quiet, unresponsive to records requests, and uninterested in investigating, while others have even said the meters are safe.. Some fire personnel have expressed fear of retribution, fear for their jobs, or the risk of lawsuits if they speak out on the fire and electrical problems they’ve seen.

From Nevada:

“Given the lingering safety question presented by the Reno and Sparks fire departments’ expert, staff believes it would be prudent to gather some information from NV Energy regarding any fires which have occurred where NV Energy equipment may have been involved,” PUC lawyer Tammy Cordova wrote. Not everybody is convinced that the meters are a menace. Nevada State Fire Marshal Peter Mulvihill thinks the gadgets are safe, although he said the new fires warrant an investigation. NV Energy, which has installed 1.1 million meters, also defends their safety.29

Preserving the fire scene is essential.30 Fire officials and insurance companies must thoroughly investigate first. Yet, state, county, and city fire officials haven’t stopped utility companies from removing meters from fire scenes. They also haven’t insisted on conducting their own investigations, and haven’t gotten specific fire coding. Why?

A PG&E email31 to the CPUC surfaced several years ago about getting the help of “sympathetic” fire officials after Smart Meters exploded at two shopping malls.

PG&E advertises its close relationship with fire officials in television ads. Fire departments also get grants from PG&E for equipment. PG&E and other utility companies routinely train fire personnel for electrical and gas fires. This creates a cozy relationship particularly with fire department upper management.

The report on British Columbia fires and investigations32 indicates some fire safety officials and agencies may have become politically compromised — a disturbing prospect. In 2016, twelve horses were killed, eleven injured, two severely so, and two firefighters were injured in a catastrophic barn fire in Florida.33 Initial quotes from Fire Rescue and fire investigators were that the cause was a catastrophic failure of the meter “causing flames and sparks to ignite hay, feed and other combustible materials that were nearby”. But that changed. The incident report later issued by the county and its inspector painted a very different picture — “unspecified electrical malfunction on the south end of the building…(I was unable to identify which device caused the fire without further specific testing and examination…).” The investigation office did no further testing once arson was ruled out, turning the case over to private investigators. Smart Grid Awareness researched this and was unable to discover any final resolution or determination.

If some fire administration officials are no longer objective and won’t speak out and expose a fire hazard, they harm the public and the fire fighters on the line that must deal with the consequences and risk their lives. That is unacceptable.

Continued in Part 4….

1 Report on Examination of Selected Sources of Electromagnetic Fields at Selected Residences in Hastings-on-Hudson, November 23, 2013 (emphasis added)

2 link no longer works

3 story.html (emphasis added) link no longer works



6 (emphasis added)


‘Smart’ technology could make utilities more vulnerable to hackers, 7-16-14


EnergyNow, June 19, 2011



Turkey’s 10-Hour Blackout Shows Threat to World Power Grids


UBC researchers find ways to hackproof smart meters





16 Personal correspondence, 2014, with Dr. Michrowski, Planetary Association for Clean Energy (PACE)


Application for Rehearing, California Public Utilities Commission




Norman Lambe testimony, July 13, 2016, PNM rate case, New Mexico PRC

22 with video

Lawsuits claim faulty PG&E Smart Meters started house fires, November 17, 2017


24 ibid (emphasis added)

25 Investigation Report into: Fires Originating in Electrical Intakes, Mark Hobbs, Lead Fire Investigation Officer, East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, UK, July 2010


27 release backgrounders/2014/oct/3 ritenburg final report.pdf




31 PG&E email: 84. “We have contacted several fire chiefs who are sympathetic” 1.pdf



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