- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Nevada utility officials said Tuesday they will turn over all data demanded by state regulators investigating whether smart electricity meters pose a fire danger.

The state fire marshal and local fire chiefs sought the preliminary inquiry after investigators linked the meters to nine fires in Reno and Sparks since 2012, with the most recent resulting in a death in July.

In recent years, NV Energy has installed 1.1 million of the devices in homes across Nevada to wirelessly transmit information on power use every 15 minutes.

Officials for the utility say they have investigated and don’t believe the meters caused any of the blazes but will provide everything requested by regulators.

“Safety is very important to us,’” NV Energy Vice President Mary Simmons said. “Some of the information may have been inconclusive, but we’re not aware of anything that has linked our smart meters to a structural fire.”

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission issued the formal order Monday compelling the utility to turn over all documents related to the meters, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported (https://tinyurl.com/mpxn52d).

The order notes that Oracle Forensics - a private firm hired by fire departments to review the fatal Reno fire and others - concluded a “common failure mode cannot be eliminated and needs to be seriously considered regarding” the meters.

Among other things, the PUC wants copies of all fire investigative reports related to the meters; a list of all meter failures; and fires at or near the meters since 2000.

Sparks Fire Chief Tom Garrison, Reno Fire Chief Mike Hernandez and their fire marshals met with PUC staff on Sept. 10 to raise their concerns, Garrison said in an email.

The Gazette-Journal first reported in mid-September that fire investigators had identified the nine fires they believed originated at the meters.

The fires generally caused little damage other than destroying the meter itself and charring the outside wall of homes. But two fires consumed large portions of homes and included one that killed a 61-year-old woman.

Reno fire investigators listed the cause of that fire as undetermined because the meter was so damaged that it’s role couldn’t be conclusively determined.

Andrew Thoresen, a forensic expert hired by the city, determined the meter could not be ruled out as the source of the fire, the newspaper said.

“Data tends to suggest the meter may have failed,” he wrote. But he also noted the meter last transmitted data 49 seconds after the 911 call, making it less likely it sparked the fire.

Simmons, vice president for business development and community strategy for NV Energy, said some fires could have started in electrical panels tied to the meters without the meter playing any role.

“We know our meter was operating when the 911 call (in July) came in,” she said. “We think physically it would not have been possible for the meter to be the thing that caused this fire.”

Simmons said the information the utility will provide the PUC will include data showing fewer than 75 of their 1.1 million smart meters have suffered any form of damage.

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com

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