Government’s exemption to use unqualified workers for smart meters secretly cancelled
The government was aware of the danger caused by using unqualified workers to install smart meters, and a government exemption to do so was cancelled on Aug. 1, according to documents obtained by the NDP Friday.
The documents also indicate the program went ahead despite eight incidents being reported during a trial period with the unqualified workers ending Aug. 27, 2013.
“The government has knowingly been putting people, homes and millions of ratepayer dollars at risk, ignoring direct warnings,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP deputy leader.
Government documents show that exemptions from a law requiring that only qualified electrical workers remove and install power meters were given to both SaskPower and American smart meter company Grid One Solutions in July 2013. The government’s exemption allowed them to skirt the law and use less-qualified workers, hired through a temp agency, instead of electricians or electrical workers to install smart meters throughout the province.
Shockingly, the decision to hire 150 unqualified workers was made despite the fact that 50 qualified electricians had already applied to do the work, plus additional qualified power line technicians, according to the documents, which were obtained by the NDP under Freedom of Information laws. Electricians can also supervise electrical apprentices who have completed post-secondary education, which would have rounded out the number of qualified electrical workers for the job.
In October 2013, the government was warned by experts at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) that using unqualified workers is dangerous, describing eight incidents that had already occurred during the removal of meters.
“This government could have done this the safe way and the right way by using electricians and taking the time to do it right,” said Wotherspoon. “The government sold out Saskatchewan by putting the bottom line of the private American company it contracted the smart meter job to ahead of Saskatchewan families.”
The government is forcing ratepayers to pick up the tab through SaskPower for at least an additional $47 million. The government has not revealed how much of its $200 million contract with the American company has already been paid.
It was confirmed last week that the same American company will be contracted to remove the smart meters and install new, old-style meters. The NDP has called for the government to send the American company packing, and for an independent investigation of the fiasco, including the money trail, conducted by the independent provincial auditor.
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For more information, contact:
Erin Morrison, NDP caucus
Additional information revealed by the Freedom of Information request:
- Smart meter installers were given only five days of training.
- The American company to which the government contracted out the smart meter project was found in violation of its exemption during safety inspections. Their exemption was revoked, but the project continued as the government agreed to have the workers become SaskPower employees so the American company could continue the contract.
- “Since the first dangerous occurrence, SaskPower changed its operating procedures and senior leadership oversight of the project.” – Government briefing document dated Aug. 7, 2014
- A letter to the government from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers states that by Aug. 27, 2013, there had already been eight outages resulting from socket damage during the meter removal. “These meters could have been removed in a safe manner, requiring less of an outage and not placing the unqualified electrical worker in front of a hazard, had the worker had knowledge of the electrical system and the conditions of services in the area.”