MANITOBA Hydro has no immediate plans to expand the use of smart meters after mixed reviews in other provinces, including unexplained fires in Saskatchewan and malfunctions in B.C.

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MANITOBA Hydro has no immediate plans to expand the use of smart meters after mixed reviews in other provinces, including unexplained fires in Saskatchewan and malfunctions in B.C.

The meters, which transmit consumption to a power utility, are being used to a very limited extent now in Manitoba.

SaskPower is in the process of removing 105,000 recently installed smart meters following concerns eight fires may have been linked to the units.

Manitoba Hydro spokesman Scott Powell said the Crown corporation studied the potential of smart meters in a three-year pilot project ending in 2009. Approximately 4,500 radio-frequency electric smart meters were installed in Winnipeg and a number of similar meters near Landmark. There are also about 950 natural gas smart meters in Winnipeg.

Powell said the meters remain in place without any problems, but Hydro does not plan to broaden their use.

"We haven't made a decision at this time," Powell said, adding Hydro officials are watching what's happening in other provinces and U.S. states with the wireless meters. "We are continuing to monitor the situation pretty actively and that includes what's going on Saskatchewan."

SaskPower is going back to older-style digital meters, telling customers the smart meters did not meet their standards or the expectations of customers. The replacement operation will take up to nine months, with a total estimated cost of up to $15 million. Meter malfunctions have been reported in B.C., although B.C. Hydro has said it uses a different brand of meter from SaskPower. Ontario has also introduced smart meters.

Powell said the model installed under Hydro's pilot project is also different than SaskPower's.

He said the increased use of smart meters is for the most part taking place in jurisdictions that also have time-of-use billing, a practice intended to encourage consumers to reduce power use during peak periods when electricity is more expensive. Manitoba does not have time-of-use billing.

Critics say Manitoba Hydro should implement wider use of smart-meter technology to not only increase conservation, but to allow customers to control when and how they consume electricity.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca