Southern Company Hides Electric Meter Dangers – Fires the whistle Blower and Hopes not to get Burned

Instead of investigating dangerous reported problems Southern Company COVERS IT UP!

“Smart meters should not be installed on any home, any

where, without a thorough safety investigation.

Manufactured agreed fail rate for the New digital smart meters 0.5%  Actual fail rate 9%!

Meters that Endanger: Shocking Details from a Whistleblower
by A O’Hair ( info [at] )
Friday Jan 20th, 2012 1:54 PM

Are smart meters just too complex? Are they veritable blackboxes(well, beige) of assorted electronic components, jury-rigged and thrown together in an off-shore factory, and then slapped onto houses without proper safety testing? Sure, we all have electronic devices in the home, but through this particular device passes all the electrical current for the house. That’s a set-up asking for trouble.

From the beginning, smart meters have had problems leading to fires and other electrical dangers. News stories have run all over the U.S. and around the world about installations leading to devastating damage. (Here’s a local SF Bay Area fire we’d like to see more fully investigated.)

A lawsuit made available to us recently detailed just how such faulty equipment could end up attached to the electrical wiring on millions of homes. In Alabama in 2009, a Sensus engineering employee named Don Baker was fired for repeatedly alerting his management to the presence of a multitude of dangerous defects in the smart meter they were manufacturing (model iConA). As he states in the complaint he filed, this whistleblower reported serious flaws in design and functioning that could lead to electrical danger, overheating, and/or fire. In fact, the failure rate of the meters was twenty times higher than it was supposed to be, and the engineer contends that at least two house fires were the result. Sensus meters are used by utilities across the U.S. and in Canada, such as PECO, Alliant Energy, Alabama Power, and NVE.

In May 2010, Mr. Baker filed a complaint [PDF]. The type of suit is called “qui tam”, where an individual alleges harm to his government. This complaint alleges that the manufacturer and the utility companies received federal monies but provided a defective product. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Alabama declined to pursue the case, because the utility said they had not received federal money for the metering project; but the allegations about the dangerous defects in the smart meters made in the complaint have not been refuted or even addressed.

In the complaint Baker relates in detail what makes the meters dangerous, and the allegations are damning—and alarming. A few highlights:

[Meters] may fail dangerously when subjected to a sudden surge of electricity …. Meters found to contain ‘flux’ or loose solder residue …. Calibration equipment not properly designed …. Electric resistor component defective …. Internal temperatures up to 200° Fahrenheit …. Hot socket alarm …. Drastic overheating to the point of catastrophic failure, melting, and burning….

Cutting corners in business and manufacturing is hardly something new; the difference here is just what is at stake: this product is installed in every house in a utility service area, and the electrical current for the house runs through it. Even a half-percent failure rate can result in serious amounts of property damage, or even death, given the total number of “customers”—though this word implies a voluntary acceptance of the product, when in fact installation of smart meters has been very largely involuntary. Truly optional consumer goods actually get more testing than smart meters.

The sort of defects and failures enumerated in this suit might well have been caught with an independent safety-certification process such as Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL). But these Sensus iConA smart meters, and every other type of smart meter, have never been subjected to such testing.

The suit states: “Mr. Baker has direct personal knowledge that Sensus and Southern Company [the utility] have installed approximately one million iConA meters in Alabama homes with knowledge that the meters are seriously defective and pose a substantial fire hazard and that at least two Alabama homes have burned as a result…. [They] were well aware that the iConA was defective and the entire project flawed.” [Emphasis ours.]

Baker submitted the information he had to the Office of the U.S. Attorney and the FBI in Feb 2010. He contends that the defendants named in the suit, Sensus, Southern Company, and Alabama Power, “perpetuated a fraudulent conspiracy” to obtain $165 million from federal stimulus funding.

These meters were never tested—for either for safety or performance—instead they went straight to out for installation. Then Sensus altered the components and design—again without safety testing. Only one percent of the Sensus meters were tested—for accuracy only—but never on a house while connected to the grid.

“It quickly became apparent that the meters were fundamentally unsound.” Baker states in the filing. “[The contract] carried an acceptable failure rate of 0.5%,” but in the first year, the meters were “failing at a rate of 9.0% per year.” Baker made reports to Sensus management about quality and safety issues, but he was ignored and eventually fired.

What was technically wrong with the smart meters that Sensus was producing? The suit alleges four categories of defects and failures: 1) Electrical Fast Transient Failures; 2) Flux Contamination and Inaccuracy Issues; 3) Faulty Components; and 4) “Hot Meters.” These technical issues are explained below.

The suit goes on to make three charges against the defendants: 1) False Claims; 2) Conspiracy; and 3) Suppression, Fraud, and Deceit. These legal issues are explained in more detail below.

Corporate recklessness—and lack of regulation to curb it—has remained a core issue in the smart meter debacle. From the Silver Springs Network antenna which increases the power of the radio over FCC limits (see page 14 of this CPUC doc), to arcing problems due to unprofessional installation, to multiple FCC violations, to the lack of any independent safety testingit is clear that if there had been effective government regulation, it could have changed the face of this “deployment” dramatically.

If you don’t like the idea of more government regulation, then how about consumer choice? If individual customers could choose between utilities, even choose their own meter—again, the landscape would also look very, very different.

But instead we are saddled with corporate utility monopolies, aided by government collusion, which adds up to a poisonous combination—whatever your political beliefs might be. It is an arrangement designed to enrich corporations, with impunity.

Why isn’t the public up in arms about these risks of smart-meter fires and explosions? There have no comprehensive investigations by major media. Early in 2011, a major news station in the SF Bay Area was doing work on this. They interviewed us several times as part of an investigation into smart-meter fires. What happened? The story never aired, and calls to the investigative reporters were not returned.

Without coverage in the mainstream media, people will be left to find out about this issue through social networks or independent media–or worse, suffer their own fire or property damage from the meter.

This is yet another reason why the proposed opt-out here in CA is—even with analogs—incomplete and inadequate. Given the growing evidence of fire risk and safety, this is not a device we should be forced to pay to avoid. Smart meters should not be installed on any home, any where, without a thorough safety investigation.


Technical details from the lawsuit about Sensus meter defects:

1) Electrical Fast Transient Failures: The manufacturer and the utility were both aware, the suit alleges, that the smart meters (iConA) were unsafe and could fail dangerous when subjected to a power surge. [This was certainly evident for another make of smart meter, the one installed in Palo Alto last October.] One critical test was skipped for the Sensus meters, the Electrcial Fast Transient Test (EFT). When this test was performed on a sample of the iConA Sensus meters, they all failed. This was after over 80,000 meters were already installed.

2) Flux Contamination and Inaccuracy Issues. The complaint states that production of the iConA meters was sloppy. Sensus performed two investigations and found 130,000 meters contained loose solder residue called “flux.” They also found that equipment used by the manufacturer to calibrate was not properly designed, calling into question the accuracy of the meters. This was after 400,000 meters were installed—non of which were recalled for testing. Baker himself has investigated over-reporting meters, and found individual meters giving readings seven times the actual electrical usage.

3) Faulty Components. Baker alleges Sensus and the utilities had reason to suspect that some components that were going into the iConA meter were faulty, with very high failure rates. Well into the delivery process, it was found that an electrical resistor was defective on at least 85,000 meters. Over 170,000 meters were also found to contain another faulty component made by Epson.

4) “Hot Meters.” These Sensus meters, the complaint alleges, posed a risk of injury or death. Sensus knew that 19,000 installed meters were reporting a “hot socket alarm”—that is, the internal temperature was getting over 200°F. Sensus received reports of overheating to the point of melting and burning. The plaintiff Baker documented himself meters reduced to lumps of blackened plastic, while the company insisted a meter couldn’t melt at less than 500°F.

Ultimately it was bringing to the attention of his supervisors a burned meter that resulted in a house fire that ended Don Bakers career at Sensus. Instead of conducting an investigation, they fired him.


Legal details alleged in the complaint:

1) False Claims. The defendant in the suit, the plaintiff alleges, presented false or fraudulent claims to the U.S. government that their smart grid project was eligible for ARRA funds when it was not. The equipment was defective and unfit.

2) Conspiracy. The defendants acted with the intent to defraud the U.S. by submitting false records to obtain the funds.

3) Suppression, Fraud, and Deceit. The defendants misrepresented or suppressed the fact that the smart meter that formed the basis of their smart grid architecture was dangerously defective.


Alabama house fires possibly resulting from defective smart meters:

Family Blames House Fire On Georgia Power Meter. “Sparks started flying from the TV and power box.”

Atlanta house fire, due to power meter; double blow to Haitian family. “Faulty power meter sparked devastating house fire–twice.”

Alabama woman says smart meter is fire hazard.; The letter the city government wrote to Sensus [PDF].

Related Press: 2010 Article from Cleburne News (AL), which has since been scrubbed from their website:

2010 Article from Montgomery Advertiser (AL) which has been since scrubbed from their website: “The meter was … replaced five days before their double-wide burned to the ground…”

2009 Article from Georgia new site, since removed: “…Steady stream of complaints about the meters since the devices went into general use ….The firemen
told him they are keeping records and turning in their findings to the electric company.”

Article from Atlanta news site, since scrubbed from website: “A power surge … After firefighters put out the blaze, they said it reignited again hours later.”

Southern Company hopes you get burned not them.

Southern Co. regulators fret over EPA rules

Coal Trader (11-Aug-11)

By Mark Watson

State regulators in Southern Company’s footprint are working to mitigate the cost and reliability effects of what one Georgia Public Service Commission member calls a “train wreck” of new federal environmental rules.

The way Southern Co mitigated it was by volunteering to be the first in America to comply to the non-existent Cap and Trade?  No, they put the burden to pay for the Kemper Plant upon the people of Mississippi.

Last week, Southern, the nation’s second-largest coal-fired electricity generator, filed at the Environmental Protection Agency an estimate that its subsidiaries would have to pay $13 billion to $18 billion to comply by 2020 with the so-called maximum achievable control technology rule to cut mercury and other toxic emissions.

The parent company of utilities in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi estimates that the new rules could result in about 40% of its 26,199 MW of installed coal-fired capacity either being retired or transitioned to natural gas.

On Monday, a Southern spokeswoman said any of this coal-fired generation that is not highly controlled – defined as lacking both sulfur dioxide scrubbers and devices to control the emission of nitrogen oxide – is “on the table” for possible retirement.

What Kemper is all about is capturing 60% carbon dioxide let’s not misguide the public.  We are all about minimizing pollution but Carbon Dioxide is not a pollutant.

More than half of Southern’s coal-fired generation – 14,267 MW, to be exact – lacks one or both types of air emissions control equipment. Here are the numbers, broken out by state:

**Alabama – 8,729 MW of coal-fired generation, of which 4,410 MW is not highly controlled, with the highest concentration of highly controlled capacity in northern Alabama;

**Florida – 1,573 MW of coal-fired generation, of which 438 is not highly controlled, with all of the highly controlled capacity in the western Panhandle;

**Georgia -14,301 MW of coal-fired generation, of which 7,823 MW is not highly controlled, with the highly controlled capacity in northern Georgia; and

**Mississippi -1,596 MW of coal-fired generation, none of which is highly controlled, with all of it concentrated along the Gulf Coast.

Also last week, Southern’s Georgia Power subsidiary asked the Public Service Commission to retire the Mitchell Plant’s unit 4C, with 33 MW of capacity, in March 2012, and to retire the Branch Plant’s Units 1 and 2, totaling 569 MW, effective at the end of 2013. The Mitchell Plant is in southern Georgia, and the Branch Plant is in central Georgia.

Mississippi will be retiring plants as well.  This is being kept confidential until after the elections. But jobs will be lost.

Georgia Power also seeks certification of four power purchase agreements totaling 1,562 MW of capacity found through a request for proposals for periods that begin in 2015 and extend 12 to 15 years thereafter.

“I believe that through our [integrated resource plan] process … we’ll continue to see Georgia without a reliability issue, but at what cost remains to be seen,” said Stan Wise, Georgia PSC chairman, on Tuesday. “It’s something my colleagues and I are very concerned about. Clearly, it’s an exceptionally tight time line for what has been a 50% coal generating state. We’re going to see a dramatic change in the way we’ve done business in this state.”

In an email, Georgia PSC member Tim Echols said, “Georgia Power has a great record of reliability. That will not be an issue, regardless of fuel.”

Wise said he has discussed what he called “the train wreck we’re facing in the next decade” with Georgia’s senators. While the commission has ordered the installation of air scrubbers, these processes take time, and the short deadlines in the EPA rules may leave Georgia regulators with “the only avenue we have in this state … to shutter a plant or transfer it to another fuel source.”

We should be joining forces with Texas to fight overbearing irrational regulations the Obama administration is laying out to destroy our economy.  The timeline should be delayed!

In contrast with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Georgia lacks a large amount of underutilized gas-fired generation capacity controlled by independent power producers, Wise said.

But an industry observer who works with independent power producers in the region said the Southeast may, in fact, have underutilized gas generation that would be available to fill in the gap from Southern’s retired coal-fired generation.

“There are many, many less independent power producers there than in the past, but I wouldn’t make a blanket statement that the generation’s not there,” said the observer, who asked that his name not be used. “Historically, they haven’t been run very much.”

Replacing coal-fired generation with new gas-fired generation, which would be funded by ratepayers, could mean a big blow to Georgia consumers. “You can be sure that when the costs of these rules are passed on to the ratepayers, it will get their attention,” Wise said.

But Echols said he has “no worries as long as natural gas prices stay down.”

In Mississippi, Leonard Bentz, the PSC member who represents the Gulf Coast region served by Southern’s Mississippi Power subsidiary, said it would be “irresponsible” for utilities to switch much of its generation to natural gas.

What is irresponsible is to force the people of MS to buy an experimental Lignite Coal plant in compliance to Obama’s Green agenda. And even worse, was to do it secretly.

“Do you think for one second that gas prices are going to stay low?” Bentz said Tuesday. “I don’t. … I’m not going to be a part of getting gas-heavy on generation. You need a good, diversified fuel mix.”

This is all about deception folks.  Steven Chu  expressed his goal to “bankrupt” every coal plant in America through regulations.  Bentz said, Let Mississippi be first.  And make the ratepayer buy the plant but not to increase the rates until after his re-election. 

It would be equally irresponsible to shut down Mississippi Power’s coal-fired generation when the utility regularly hits records for summer demand, as it has done in the past two years, Bentz said.

It is criminal to force one of the poorest states to buy a risky coal plant scam causing the poorest to suffer to their deaths in the heat. Say it will bring jobs as businesses close and lay-off.   But Bentz did just what Obama wanted.

“Reliability is probably one of the biggest determining factors in my decision-making process, a fraction above cost,” Bentz said. “When people’s bills get high, the phone rings off the wall, but when the lights go out, the phones blow up from all of the calling.”

Following the political agenda seems like the determining factor.  It took only 72 hours to change the minds of the Bentz and Posey after recieving the persuasive letter from Haley Barbour who was hoping for a presidential run at the time and kissing up-to liberals. 

In a joint e-mail, the Alabama PSC said it learned from Alabama Power that “under the currently proposed implementation schedules, reliability will be jeopardized.”

“For that not to occur, the EPA must extend its stringent compliance periods and adopt a more flexible approach,” states the e-mail. “Otherwise, customers could potentially suffer reliability impacts and incur unnecessary costs due to compliance penalties, inflationary pressures, material supply and labor shortages, as well as the potential for multiple outages occurring at one time.”

The Alabama commissioners’ email said they “plan to maintain an open dialogue … concerning these issues” with their congressional delegation and other government officials.

Bentz said he has been discussing the new EPA rules with Mississippi’s congressional delegation.

But not discussing it with the people of Mississippi.  Again I want to see a fight against Cap and Trade not a volunteer to be the first to comply mentality.  Bentz keeps saying, “We will be the first in energy.”  But what he means is, we will be the first fools to be involved in the “train wreck.”

But Echols said he expects that Congress will not forestall the EPA rules unless Obama loses the 2012 presidential election.

“The EPA is a powerful agency,” Echols said.

Mark Watson

The red italics is inserted opinions and is not part of the original Coal Trader article in black. Brandon Presley voted against the Kemper County Lignite coal plant and has been an advocate for the people of Mississippi on this topic.

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