DTE on the Hot Seat for Power Failures

Members of Rochester City Council made it clear this week they want detailed information from DTE Energy about reported voltage irregularities that have been plaguing several city businesses, including the library.

Three DTE officials showed up at Monday’s council meeting. But they appeared without enough warning to let residents know, so council scheduled formal discussion for its Oct. 10 agenda. Residents and business owners who have experienced voltage fluctuations are asked to notify either DTE or the city in advance of the meeting.

David Gadzinski, facilities manager for the Rochester Hills Public Library, said the library has lost six compressors in the last five years.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “Those compressors have been autopsied; the cause is electrical failure.”  He said the equipment was well-maintained and the library has monitoring equipment that records what he called “faults” in the power supply.

“There are a lot of instances where there are these power disruptions, sometimes when the weather’s bad, sometimes when the weather’s fine,” he said. “My concern is the demand on the grid in our area. … Maybe the community’s built up and maybe the infrastructure hasn’t kept up.”

Moonzer Sayed, who owns the Rochester Sign Shop not far from the library, said he’s lost computers and hard drives.

“This problem’s been going on for a long time, over five years as far as I know and nothing has been done yet,” he said. He said he’s considering purchasing some new equipment but fears it too would be destroyed.

Several council members said they believe these are not isolated instances, based on complaints they’ve heard. But Mark Aitken, a DTE supervising engineer, said the city is fed electricity from six different sources, so it’s unlikely the affected buildings all have the same problem.

“Low voltage typically is a fairly local phenomenal,” Aitken said. “So what I’m saying is we need to hear more about the locations.”

DTE Regional Manager Mike Palchesko said the company has investigated every incident that has been reported and doesn’t believe the problem is widespread.

“We’ve just not seen any large number of people who have brought any matters to our attention,” he said. “We are very interested in working through those.”

City Manager Jayme Vettraino said some complaints may have been “lost in translation.”

“We’ve been trying to match our calls with the ones DTE receives and if customers would talk to DTE directly it probably does assist them,” he said.  “We have passed a significant number of instances over the last eight months and they have followed up on them.”

Mayor Jeff Cuthbertson said council wants “something other than just a loose dialogue here. … It seems to me we ought to have some facts.” He said business owners need to be confident they can invest in the city and not have to worry about equipment losses.

“I think we should be able to rely on the grid, even if it is 95 degrees,” he said. “If it’s 100 degrees for five days in a row, people understand.”

Councilwoman Kim Russell said her family’s business has experienced the problem. “It’s costly to the businesses, it’s costly to equipment,” she said. “I urge all the businesses to call you or call the city so that we know all the businesses.”

Councilman Stuart Bikson was a bit more blunt. “To me, for DTE to come in here and say there aren’t any problems–there are; we all know that,” he said. “Everyone in town and on council thinks there’s a problem, and DTE doesn’t.”

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