Getting to the root of smart meter fires

Opinion: Columns

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By Barbra Mullarkey

What's the continuing story affecting ComEd's General Electric (GE) smart meters on Oak Park and River Forest homes, condos, apartments and businesses? [Two RF home fires connected to smart meters, Sept. 5, 2012 and Smart meters may be a dumb idea, Viewpoints, Feb. 13, 2013]

On Aug. 28, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) issued their 14-page staff report, "ComEd Smart Meter Fires." This ICC staff report was attached to Steve Daniels' on-line article, "Human error caused ComEd smart meter fires: Report," ('s Chicago Business, Sept. 5).

In its 2010 pilot project, ComEd installed electric smart meters in nine communities: Bellwood, Berwyn, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Maywood, Melrose Park, Oak Park, River Forest and Chicago's Humboldt Park.

ICC staff recommends that ComEd make presentations at an ICC meeting to explain their pilot project's smart meter fires and overheating. Would you agree with staff who advocate periodic inspections of smart meters to prevent future fires?

ComEd delays replacement of its pilot project's smart meters until Underwriter Laboratories (UL) certifies new adaptors and connection blocks, which "should reduce fire hazards."

According to ICC staff, three smart meter fires in River Forest and Berwyn happened at ComEd installations of "upgraded meter readers with minimal training." Soon-to-be shelved meter readers can't catch a break.

The ICC staff statements seem to whitewash smart meter fires:

"Smart meters were not the cause of the fires or over heating," "meter overheating and fires at ComEd electric installations are not the fault of smart meters," "ComEd's smart meters did not contribute to meter fires in ComEd's service area."

ICC staff concludes the primary cause of smart meter fires are aged, deteriorated meter bases and the electrical connections inside the meter bases that ComEd did not repair, replace or report; customer tampering; and accidents.

However, ICC staff also concludes that "ComEd should assume responsibility for the overheating meters and for the fires in meter bases."

According to the ICC staff report from November 2012 through June 2013, 91 meters were involved in fires. Who decides if smart meters cause the fires — the town's fire chief, the Illinois state fire marshal or the U.S. fire administrator?

During July 2013 smart meter installations in Leyden Township near Melrose Park, ComEd inspected 233 meters and found three that required repairs. It represents 1.29 percent of the inspected meter bases. And 1.29 percent of 4,000,000 meter bases on ComEd's system is 51,600 meter bases potentially requiring repairs.

Crain's Chicago Business editorial (Sept. 10, 2012) caught people's eyes. It read: "Based on preliminary investigations, the problem isn't so much with the meters as with the wiring in the homes. … How many homes and businesses around Chicago have older wiring that might not be compatible with the technology ComEd is peddling?

"You can choose to be comforted by the fact ComEd might let you opt out of installing a smart meter. Or you could remember that, whether ComEd fixes the problem or not, you'll still be paying for it. Now put that in your pipe and smoke it."

The title of the editorial was, "State fiddles while smart meters burn."

What say you, ComEd customers?

Barbara Mullarkey is spokesperson for the Oak Park Environmental Network (OPEN).

Reader Comments

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Norm from Powell River,B.C. Cnada  

Posted: November 20th, 2013 10:22 PM

If these "smart meters" do not cause fires, where is the ignition spot? If some one gets shot is it the action of the bullet or the shooter? Leaving the analog meter alone and not installing a smart meter is the logical step.

Zapped in Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: October 7th, 2013 7:09 PM

It's important for each of us to learn more about smart meters. Please learn more. They are surveillance technology with intense pulsing radiation, causing deep stress and illnesses. Dietrich Klinghardt, MD, PhD calls smart meters the most dangerous technology for our health. We had no say about the installation of these meters. We want an opt-out without charge. Period. We reject the industry lies and this Big Brother technology. We can do many things to be green and save energy on our own.

Henny Penny from OP  

Posted: October 5th, 2013 3:13 PM

The sky is falling

kathryn from oak park  

Posted: October 5th, 2013 1:12 PM

Thanks to Barbara and others who are advocating for the safety of smart meters and people's right to opt out.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 2nd, 2013 6:04 PM

With all the problems that these dumb meters are causing it seems that the money spent on them would be more productive if spent on alternative energy, such as windmills and solar. The governor did a fine job years ago when he promoted the Citizens Utility Board. Time for him and the other elected officials to step up and curb ComEd.

Carol from Naperville  

Posted: October 2nd, 2013 12:53 PM

One need only peruse this long list of fires and explosions connected with smart meters to know there is a very serious problem with these devices: Why is ComEd so willing to risk the safety of its customers?

Skyvision Solutions  

Posted: October 2nd, 2013 12:31 PM

Smart meters and the smart grid definitely increase the risks to the public in terms of privacy, health, cyber security threats, and yes, possibly fires. I started a website in an attempt to raise public awareness to these issues. Particularly for fires, refer to link at

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