TYRONE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A power struggle has developed between some local homebuilders and Consumers Energy.
It involves delays in getting electricity to new homes, a problem Consumers blames on lingering supply chain issues. Some builders say there’s more to the story.
Sable Homes is constructing a home near Kent City. It’s framed in and ready for drywall and other interior work. But to do that work, the home needs electricity.
“A furnace doesn’t run without constant power. You can’t drywall without it freezing and then it will fall apart. Then you’re stuck. You can only go so far in the building process without constant heat,” Sable Homes President John Bitely said.
The electricity has to be run underground to the site off 22 Mile Road. That requires the installation of a ground-level transformer. Sable sent its application to get a power line to the home, one of 14 being built in the area, in August. It’s still waiting.
Consumers blames the problem on a transformer shortage.
Bitely said he understands supply chain issues. He has been dealing with them, too. But he also blames Consumer’s business practices — specifically, requiring contractors to pay upfront but not ordering the equipment when they do. Consumer is required to collect payment upfront on projects.
“Consumers power is frustrating because they won’t schedule the job based on your schedule date. They wait until you’re ready to go, then then they say, ‘Oh I’m sorry, we don’t have that stuff on order,’ or, ‘We don’t have it.’ Shame on them,” Bitely said.
The contractors’ only option is to delay the project.
“Or we will have to bring a generator into service, set a temporary propane tank, run a generator on propane so it can run 24/7 on demand and hope nobody steals it,” Bitely said.
It costs time and money for builders.
“It doesn’t work out for the client that’s waiting to move in here either,” Bitely said.
A 2022 report by the Edison Electric Institute (PDF), provided to News 8 by Consumer Energy, says it’s not just COVID-19 supply problems still affecting transformers and other equipment; it also blames a limited supply of raw materials and the weather. It also cites fewer domestic manufacturers and geopolitical challenges.
In a statement to News 8, a Consumer Energy spokesperson said the Jackson-based utility “works closely” with customers to schedule installation quickly.
“Consumers Energy works to schedule work as soon as possible for our customers. We work closely with them and make sure they know where we are in the process. We have a website where customers can learn more about new service installation: New Service Connection Process | Consumers Energy(.) I’d add, too, the attached article from the Edison Electric Institute goes into details about supply chain constraints on the national energy industry. EEI is on top of these sort of national issues that are facing local energy providers like us and would be good background. Consumers Energy continues to explore creative solutions to mitigate the national supply chain issue while also communicating to those requesting new service installation that their work may be delayed due to national equipment shortages and we are taking every step possible to secure the equipment we need to serve our customers.”Consumers Energy spokesperson
The utility has also created a self-service online portal that provides customers with status updates on their projects.
Bitely’s not buying Consumers’ excuses.
“If it was private sector, they’d be fired,” Bitely said. “And we have to deal with them because that’s our only choice.”