A large Pennsylvania utility is yanking “smart meters” from Raleigh-based Sensus that were part of a huge $650 million project, citing safety concerns about overheating and fires that have been linked to its meters.

PECO, the largest electric and natural gas utility in Pennsylvania, said earlier this week it was resuming the smart meter installation program – but without Sensus hardware. In August, the program was suspended due to safety concerns.

Some 186,000 Sensus meters had been installed in the project, and about half of those have already been removed. PECO chose Sensus for the project in 2010. 

But Sensus, in response to questions from WRAL News, is standing by its hardware.

As The Philadelphia Inquirer described PECO’s decision, the utility was “pulling the plug” on Sensus.

Sensus, however, denied its meters were at fault. The company, which is a global leader in smart metering technology for electric, water and other utilities, also noted that Sensus software selecting for helping run the smart grid project was still being used.

“Sensus is pleased PECO is moving forward with their smart grid program deployment and continues to rely on Sensus technology to provide the communications network used in the system,” the company said in an e-mail response to a series of WRAL News questions.

“This includes the Sensus FlexNet communications infrastructure, FlexNet communications boards in the meters they will be installing, managed services offerings and distribution automation products and solutions.”

Sensus said that PECO had decided “to suspend use of our meters at this time” but noted that users should “be assured that there are no safety issues with Sensus electric meters that support this decision. The results of investigations have confirmed the meters are not the problem and our patent-pending technology actually helps to mitigate issues that occur outside the meter.”

Sensus earlier this year launched a smart grid project in the Wake Forest area – and among the homes wired with a smart meter is Sensus Chief Executive Officer Peter Mainz, who lives in that Wake County town. 

The Wake Electric Membership Corporation chose to install smart meters at the homes of its 35,000 customers.

PECO stopped the project after a number of incidents, including at least two fires. The utility retained Underwriters Laboratories and independent consultants to examine meters.

Following that investigation, PECO chose to remove Sensus meters and replace them with equipment from a Swiss company, the Philadelphia newspaper reported.

“We determined that the L&G meter is the best solution for Peco customers, that it performed better in the field, and that was confirmed by testing,” Cathy Engel Menendez, a PECO spokesperson told the newspaper.

However, Sensus told WRAL News in August after the initial reports that its meters were not at fault.

In its latest response, Sensus again stood by its equipment.

“Safety is our number one priority and all Sensus meters are subject to rigorous testing and meet or exceed all safety standards,” the company said.

“Sensus has ten million meters deployed in North America that have been operating safely and reliably for years. In fact, two million of the exact same model used in the PECO installation continues to operate safely and reliably in communities across the U.S.”

The company said other factors could be involved in the Philadelphia project problems.

“40 million smart electric meters have been installed in North America using meters from various companies,” Sensus said.

“External issues such as problems with customer electrical equipment, meter installation related problems including meter boxes with loose, corroded or failed connections, meter tampering and power surges have been the cause of any overheating problem.

“Sensus underscores the critical importance of careful meter installation procedures, including the careful examination of meter boxes and wiring at installation, training of meter installers and the need to have rapid remedial action when field problems are observed.”