DTE apologizes to residents for frequent power outages

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published May 12, 2021

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ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — Residents of northern Rochester Hills and Oakland Township have been battling power outages from DTE for many years, but their frustrations hit an all-time high last month.

Oakland Township Trustee Dave Mabry experienced the recurring outages firsthand this spring at his home near Adams and Gunn roads in Oakland Township.

“About a month ago, it seemed like any day that there was any kind of wind we were getting sporadic outages. Sometimes they’d last a couple of seconds. Sometimes they would last 15-20 minutes. It was more of a nuisance than anything,” Mabry said. “It seemed like they had to be related to wind blowing the equipment somewhere.”

But on Friday, April 9, he said, the outages were nearly constant, flickering on and off most of the day, even without any wind.

“For no apparent reason, these nuisance outages started. I counted them, and all together there were about 15 at my house that day,” he said.

Mabry assumed just his subdivision was affected, until he was alerted to posts from many angry homeowners in the area who flooded the NextDoor app with complaints.

“The people commenting were all really hating on DTE, because this is a recurring thing,” he said. “On that particular day there was no wind to blame it on … but it was really bad.”

Many homeowners, like Mabry, contacted DTE to report the issue, but seconds or sometimes minutes later the power would briefly come back on, only to turn back off again — a process that repeated throughout the afternoon, frustrating those affected.

“I reported the outages on the DTE app on my phone and I’d get a message back that would say, ‘We repaired the outage,’ and it would ask if my power was back on. It had come back on, but by the time they texted me asking if it was back on, it had gone back out again. It was really bad that day,” Mabry said.

Ana Medina, DTE’s director of regional customer operations for the northwest area, said approximately 4,000 customers were affected by the intermittent power outages in April — an issue she said has since been resolved.

“We want to apologize to the customers of the area because the service that they experienced during that period of time was pretty unacceptable,” she said. “The reliability that the customers had was really not what we committed to deliver.”

State Rep. John Reilly, of Oakland Township, said many rightfully frustrated residents contacted his office about the recent power outages in the area.

“One of the constituents called me and said, ‘We’re losing power all the time, anywhere between 15-30 times in one day’ — sometimes it was just for a couple of seconds and sometimes it was for minutes, but, obviously, that was a real problem — and it was heightened by the fact that more people are working from home and on computers. Medical equipment was affected too.”

To discuss concerns, Reilly held a forum with residents and DTE at the Paint Creek Cider Mill the morning of April 26. State Rep. Mark Tisdel, of Rochester Hills, also participated in the forum.

During the meeting, via Zoom, Medina said a DTE rep explained what caused the lapse in service and what the company was doing to correct it.

She said the power outages began March 30, when strong wind gusts blew into the state, interrupting power service for 4,000 homes connected to the “Colorado” power circuit.

“We fixed that issue on the 30th. Then on April 8, which was a Thursday night, we had quite a bit of wind. I think that the majority of the customers had momentary outages — power coming in and out — on the night of the 8th, and they continued through the 9th. During the 9th, which was a Friday, that’s when service really got pretty bad. We had customers experience, on average, like 10 momentary outages. But from March 30 to April 9, the majority of them probably saw around 20 momentary outages,” Medina explained.

DTE investigated the complaints and discovered that the circuit that provides power to 4,000 customers in the area had a broken crossarm, which crews serviced the evening of April 9.

“In this instance — which is pretty odd, and we don’t run into this often — that crossarm was broken but still had the wires connected to it, so every time it was windy, the wires were coming together,” Medina said. “We fixed it that night — the night of April 9.”

Over that weekend, Medina said, DTE engineers and field crews patrolled the area to make sure service was reliable and knocked on doors to explain what had happened. They trimmed some additional trees the following week to clear the lines and prevent future outages.

DTE, she said, is “committed to improving reliability,” noting that the engineering team has also looked at the circuit and plans to make further improvements.

“We have some work that we are going to be doing to improve the system. Most of the work will be constructed this month, in May. We’re going to be adding devices that will really help us isolate and prevent outages. We are also upgrading any equipment that could fail, short term,” Medina explained. “We are also going to be making some system process changes so we can prevent this from happening again. It was a very unique situation, which is unfortunate for the customers in the area,” Medina said.

DTE also invited the residents affected by the outages to a virtual open house at 6:30 p.m. May 13 to discuss the grid updates the company has already completed and what it plans to address in the future, and to answer questions. DTE customers in the affected area are asked to check their email for details.

The energy company is offering affected customers a one-time $25 “customer satisfaction credit,” which officials said may take up to two billing cycles to go into effect.

When Reilly heard about the power issues in northern Rochester Hills and Oakland Township, he said, his “antenna went up.”

“It’s a huge concern when the state awards a monopoly status to a company that doesn’t provide good service,” he said. “I think this is a clear indicator of that happening … and I thought attention needed to be brought to the issue.”

Reilly, who serves on the state’s energy committee, said Michigan currently has a cap of 10% for alternative energy suppliers — meaning 90% of the market share of energy at the generation level in Michigan is guaranteed to Consumers Energy and DTE Energy.

“It’s a monopoly, and it’s a very big deal, but most people don’t know about it,” he said.

From 2002-2008, Michigan energy customers were free to choose their energy provider. But in 2008, he said, a bill was passed that established the cap along with a 10% renewable energy mandate.

“The latest agreement that they negotiated was in 2016, which was right before I came here. It was a marathon session and it went through the night and people finally signed on to this bill that was going to give 90% of the electricity to DTE and Consumers and 10% was left open for choice,” he said. “When you have that kind of a situation, where you have a monopoly, the thing that you have to watch for is, is the place that has this monopoly providing good service and doing anything to keep the prices down? That’s something you have to constantly watch for,” he said.

Anyone with additional questions or comments about power service can contact DTE at powerconcerns@dteenergy.com.