Melissa Fyfe February 13, 2011
Milena Adams says wiring in her Richmond home was faulty. Photo: Ken Irwin
VICTORIA’S energy regulator has conceded smart meter contractors might lack required skills and is reviewing the qualifications of workers rolling out the $2 billion scheme.
The Sunday Age can also reveal that, in the course of their work, smart meter installers have identified dangerous and possibly life-threatening electrical hazards in 3500 Victorian homes.
Energy Safe Victoria has requested electricity distribution companies provide the names, qualifications and employment details of the hundreds of contractors installing smart meters across the state.
This comes after the Electrical Trades Union raised concerns about skilled migrants working as installers with qualifications that would not pass Victorian standards. The Sunday Age believes the regulator is mostly concerned about the qualifications of Indian workers who come to Victoria via South Australia.
The regulator recently moved to allay fears over the smart meter program, after a Highett woman received an electric shock when her meter was incorrectly installed. It is understood the qualifications of the installer in that incident sparked the regulator’s concerns.
”We are concerned about the quality of the work,” the regulator’s spokesman David Guthrie-Jones said. ”We’ve identified now that some of the installers have come in on work visas from overseas, received their required qualifications from other states, then under the arrangements that exist between states they can come into Victoria to work.”
This comes as a Richmond woman has claimed her son received an electric shock arising from the failure of a contractor to check wiring after installing a smart meter in August. Milena Adams said after her smart meter was installed, light globes exploded and household appliances dimmed her lights. She says that in December, her son received a shock when touching a shower tap. The electricity company CitiPower checked her house immediately.
Ms Adams said CitiPower told her the problem arose from the smart meter installer not checking wiring, but the company says the fault was due to a tree in Ms Adams’s yard. Energy Safe Victoria accepts the company’s report of the incident.
Energy Minister Michael O’Brien told The Sunday Age that safety was the government’s first priority. He said only one incident of harm has been recorded after 460,000 smart meter installations. ”Energy Safe Victoria is making the right call in checking the qualifications that we require in Victoria are being observed.”
Mr O’Brien said Victorians should know that the smart meter program, which aims to install a new meter in every home across the state, has provided a ”safety dividend”, with hazardous faults being identified in 3500 homes.
Electrical Trades Union state secretary Dean Mighell welcomed the regulator’s move but said it was disappointing that the Highett woman had to be hurt before action was taken on poorly trained workers. He said the union would be campaigning against piecework, whereby contracted installers are paid a price per meter. ”That’s just a recipe for disaster,” he said.
The smart meter program was conceived under the former Labor government. The meters allow electricity companies to remotely read meters and charge for electricity at different times of the day.