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B.C. smart meters at B.C. Hydro, July 5, 2011, Burnaby, B.C. The Opposition NDP want the Saskatchewan government and its power company to better explain how they will manage the expensive replacement of failed smart meters. NDP Leader Cam Broten said people who live in the province will foot the bill unless the government can recover every dollar spent on the program.

Brett Beadle for The Globe and Mail/brett beadle The Globe and Mail

The Opposition NDP want the Saskatchewan government and its power company to better explain how they will manage the expensive replacement of failed smart meters.

NDP Leader Cam Broten said people who live in the province will foot the bill unless the government can recover every dollar spent on the program.

"What is unacceptable is for Saskatchewan rate payers to pick up the tab for this costly and dangerous error," Broten said Wednesday.

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"I know SaskPower made a statement saying they were sorry for the problem, and that's good, but there needs to be an explanation as to where the $47 million will come from."

Nine fires have now been reported involving the meters. The province has ordered SaskPower to remove all 105,000 of the smart meters already installed in homes.

Broten said the government and SaskPower need to provide clear information on what happened.

SaskPower CEO Robert Watson said the utility started the replacement work Tuesday and hopes to have it done in six months.

The government has asked Saskatchewan's Crown Investments Corp. to investigate. Two independent labs have been hired to test the meters.

Watson said people shouldn't worry in the meantime, noting that he has a smart meter on his own home.

He said there has only been one house fire and that was because of an issue with a socket behind the smart meter, not the meter itself. He also said the house was not properly grounded.

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SaskPower said it is also improving the safety of the devices, including how they are installed.

"We not only will be retraining the installation staff on new safety measures and additional safety measures, but we've added safety inspectors onto the process so that ... the process will be as safe as possible," Watson said Wednesday.

Watson said SaskPower may have to delay some projects to manage expenses, but the replacement cost won't affect rates.

"With a $2-billion corporation, sometimes you have issues that are beyond your control and you have to fit it within your budget," he said.

"The extra cost will be absorbed in our budget this year and we will not require any additional rate increases."

The province pegs the replacement tab at $15 million, but the full cost of the program is expected to be $47 million once the defective meters are removed.

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Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has said the government will go after the North Carolina-based company that makes the meters for a portion of the costs.

Sensus has defended its equipment.

The company said it has conducted lab tests and site inspections at the recent incidents. It said the results so far indicate that some of the fires were caused by holes in the meter boxes that allowed water in, or by power surges.

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