Thousands of Lakeland Electric customers are being alerted about a potential fire danger involving their power meters. The utility is replacing the devices after several melted or caught fire because of overheating.
While no homes burned down as a result of the problem, the utility said 10,600 so-called "smart meters" will be removed during the next several weeks.
"We look at it as we'd rather be safe than sorry," said Kevin Cook, spokesman for the City of Lakeland, which operates the utility. "We're going to take these off and replace them with technology that we know we're not having any issues with."
The meters involved were called remote disconnect meters, meaning they could be controlled from a central location without sending out a technician. They were placed mostly in rural areas or apartment complexes.
Lakeland Electric said moisture affected the circuitry of the meters leading to the malfunctions.
"It scares me because my parents are here so it's concerning," said Mary Hard, who immediately wanted to check if her mom's meter was among the thousands that need to be fixed.
In her case, the serial number wasn't a match.
Cynthia Whitehead, a lifelong Lakeland resident and customer of the utility, said when she heard about the problem she was alarmed.
"Yes, I'm going to go home and check mine," Whitehead said.
To find out if your meter is one of the faulty models, simply check the number located on the small barcode on the front face of the device. Any meter that starts with the number "5" needs to be replaced. Also, any meter with the letters "RD" are also on the removal list.
The utility plans to replace about 500 meters a week. The manufacturer, Sensus, is expected to pay for the multi-million dollar mistake.