Smart meters, which wirelessly transmit energy usage from a home to the power company, might be the cause of a handful of fires in northern Nevada.
Fire investigators in Reno and Sparks have asked the state Public Utilities Commission to investigate the meters. They believe nine fires since 2012, including one that killed a 61-year-old woman, could be tied to problems with the meters.
The Nevada Fire Marshal is also looking into the matter. He expects to report on what he's found within the next two weeks.
Though authorities in southern Nevada say they have discovered no problems with the meters, other cities in the United States and Canada have reported fires or concerns with the devices.
Donahue said his department has been aware of problems in other cities.
"There's some sort of commonality there that's bringing the attention to the utility companies but also to the fire departments," he added.
Gary Smith, NV Energy director of Smart Technology, said that since 2010, the company has replaced 1.1 million old meters with Smart Meters. Of those, the company counted 70 instances where the meters were damaged from "over-voltage, tampering, water intrusion or a hot socket, which is a bad connection between the meter itself and the electrical panel."
In each case, he added, the problem was repaired.
As for the fires in Reno and Sparks, he said, they are still investigating the possible causes with their own forensic investigators. Evidence suggesting the meters might not be the problem, he said, is that in one of those fires, the meter continued to work even after a 911 call was made to the fire department.
Smith added that of the 1.1 million Smart Meters installed, 0.006 percent have failed. Asked what failure rate would compel NV Energy to recall the meters, he said "we are working with the (meter) manufacturer and the (Public Utilities Commission) to try to establish that."
Jeff Donahue, Reno Fire Marshal
Gary Smith, NV Energy