Mandryk: Smart Meters explanation needed | Video
BY MURRAY MANDRYK, THE LEADER-POST JULY 18, 2014
It's a bit too early to conclude that SaskPower's smart meter debacle is the result of government policy.
But even if this issue doesn't neatly fit the left's narrative that this is all about the Saskatchewan Party government's contracting out/privatization agenda, it does speak to a need for better accountability from not only the Crown corporation and its executive team, but also from the government that appointed them.
We deserve a lot better explanation than we have so far received. After all, a project of the magnitude of SaskPower's now-on-hold plan to replace the province's halfmillion power consumption meters with the so-called "smart meters" is a huge undertaking for any power utility.
It's a job fraught with potential problems given the invasive nature of hooking up any electrical component to virtually every residence in the province and it should have been scrutinized to ensure flawless execution.
One might think Premier Brad Wall would at least be very curious as to why that doesn't seem to have been the case.
In play is the very serious matter of six fires said to be related to the installation of these meters, which are manufactured by North Carolina-based company Sensus and are being installed by SaskPower-hired local installers working under the direction of an American-based company called Grid One Solutions.
Interestingly, neither company is talking to the media about the problem - fuelling speculation that either or both companies share some responsibility for it.
NDP Opposition critic Kathy Sproule has gone as far as to suggest the installers are "less qualified" and that the government's decisions "may be putting the safety of public and property at risk ... including the installers."
It is a grave accusation, but its validity is questionable. Do we really know these installers were "less qualified" - or were their qualifications adequate for a low-voltage installation?
Or is the criticism designed to fit the political narrative? For weeks now, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Larry Hubich has been tweeting out concerns about "Texas license plates" working for SaskPower - odd, given that Sask-Power's International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) gave its approval to this project.
Beyond the fact that we still really don't know whether the problem is related to installations or not, Wall pointed out to reporters Thursday that there is a long history of such contracting for specific projects going back to the NDP government days. To simply tie this to a political agenda is, as Wall rightly noted, drawing a longbow.
Moreover, if one chooses to get into the smart meter business - which would seem to make sense, given that they could potentially provide a long-term cost-savings in the manpower of reading meters - one is likely going to wind up dealing with a large U.S. company specializing in the manufacturing of the product.
And such companies have installed millions of these meters. That said, the Saskatchewan public is likely owed more than the obligatory reassurances from Wall at the tail end of his cheesy photo op in front of a 428 Cobra Jet Shelby GT clone being auctioned off for charity.
In fact, given reporters' other questions to Wall Thursday on P3 schools and the province backing off on the $40-million lean health contract it seems there is a lot for which Wall needs to answer.
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