After several fires in the region have been attributed to the new PECO “smart” energy meters, including one in Bristol, the energy provider on Wednesday stopped installation of the devices, officials confirmed to Patch Thursday.
Since the beginning of the year, nearly 180,000 of the new meters have been delivered to Delaware Valley households. By next year, the company had hopes of placing over 1 million across its service area, PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez said.
As of Thursday, PECO has halted installation of the Sensus brand meters and has also begun a forensic investigation into what caused the meters to burst into flames.
One of the meters is being blamed for a fire that damaged a vinyl-sided house on Lookout Lane in Washington Crossing Sunday morning, Upper Makefield Fire Marshal John Kernan said.
Kernan said that his investigation revealed that the fire emanated from the meter box on the outside of the house. A neighbor and a passing jogger both witnessed the fire and saw flames and sparks emanating from the meter box.
The meter fire in Upper Makefield doesn't appear to be an isolated case either.
Three similar fires have been reported in Newtown over the past two months, township Fire Marshal Don Harris said.
The meter boxes are also being blamed for an April fire at the Bristol Garden Apartments in Lower Bucks County, Fox 29 reported.
The Upper Makefield fire marshal also reported he is investigating another recent fire to determine if that one was caused by a meter box.
Engel Menendez said in an interview with Patch Thursday evening that PECO has finished investigations into six of the 15 "overheating" incidents and has determined the problem has been caused by "preexisting" wiring problems, not with the newly-installed smart meters.
The utility company is planning to replace some Sensus meters that could overheat with another brand to see if the new meter performs better. The company is also offering inspection of the meters, a Bucks County fire official said.
PECO plans to update some of the smart meters' software via wireless signal in the coming weeks with a new feature that would shut the meter off if overheating occurs. An early alarm system is also being installed, Engel Menendez reported.
Both Kernan and Harris said homeowners have been lucky to this point that the meter fires haven’t caused injuries or more serious fires.
Utility customers who have concerns about their recently installed smart meters are able to call a PECO helpline at 855-741-9011.