BG&E sues supply firm, alleges faulty switches

April 20, 1993|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. is suing a West Coast electric equipment maker for $2 million, charging the company with providing defective radio-controlled switches that were used for seven months in the utility's conservation program.

BG&E bought 15,038 of the switches from the Fisher Pierce division of Pacific Scientific Co. in early 1989 for about $1 million, according to the suit, which was filed in Baltimore Circuit Court last week. Some of these switches were attached to central air conditioning units, heat pumps and water heaters of customers participating in BG&E's Energy Saver Switch program.

About 6,500 of the switches were installed from October 1989 to April 1990 before they were removed by BG&E because of the alleged defects.

In addition to the cost of the switches, BG&E is also seeking compensation for installing, removing and testing the devices, along with interest and legal expenses.

Richard V. Plat, senior vice president for Pacific Scientific, said the company had not seen the suit and would not comment.

BG&E filed the suit after trying to resolve the problem for three years, according to Timothy F. Jahnigen, BG&E's supervisor of residential conservation. "We went to great lengths to work the problem out," he said.

The five-year old Energy Saver Switch program -- previously called the Energy Manager program -- has about 193,500 participants. It allows the company to turn off the compressors of air conditioners and heat pumps by radio control for periods of 15 minutes during peak electric demand. In exchange, customers in the program receive a $40 annual credit on their electric bill.

In late 1990, BG&E extended the program to include electric water heaters with a $20 annual credit.

Scientific Atlanta Inc., based in Atlanta, Ga., has been the main supplier of the radio-controlled switches to BG&E and all of the devices in use were made by that company, according to BG&E spokesman John A. Metzger.

But the company was seeking a second supplier for the devices when it bought the switches from Pacific Scientific, based in Newport Beach, Calif., four years ago, Mr. Metzger said.

Many of the switches supplied by Pacific Scientific, BG&E charges, had a variety of defects, including not responding to radio signals, improperly turning off customers' equipment for indefinite periods and being marked with improper serial numbers.

The Pacific Scientific switches did not cause any injuries, Mr. Metzger said. However, BG&E did reimburse about 10 customers several thousands of dollars for electric bills that were boosted because switches had cut off heat pumps, forcing the systems to use the more expensive backup heating devices.

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