Many of you might take for granted that when you flip a switch in your home, the power will be there!
That hasn't been the case for residents in a portion of Ortonville and Oxford. They share a power circuit and say they've been plagued by power outages in the past year.
"If the wind blows too hard, we have a storm, it snows, we just cringe and wait," said Sandy Harper of Oxford.
Calling Ruth to the Rescue For Help
Ken Miller of Ortonville was the resident who called Ruth to the Rescue to get some help. He told Ruth to the Rescue he'd invite a "few" friends over for a meeting. Nearly two dozen neighbors showed up on a Friday night to share their dissatisfaction with DTE.
"Why is my service substandard when other towns around here have never lost their power," said Mike Carten of Ortonville.
Trouble Beyond the December Ice Storm
Much of the frustration the neighbors feel goes back to the big ice storm last December. It was one of the worst weather events in years, but these residents say they've lost power many other times as well.
Donald Richmond of Ortonville started tracking the outages. By his count, the neighborhood lost power 11 times in 2013 and 6 times by the end of January, 2014. They wanted answers, and Local 4's Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer sat down with an executive from DTE on their behalf.
She asked the Vice-President of Distribution Operations Trevor Lauer if the residents' count was accurate.
"Our records show that the customers lost power five times in 2013 and they've lost power 4 times so far in 2014. Still not an acceptable number of outages," he told Spencer.
Whatever the exact number of outages, it's clear these neighbors are worried they can lose problem at any time.
"We kind of live on pins and needles here," said Richmond. "People can't leave, people can't go on vacations."
They worry what will happen to their sump pumps, pets, and other things if they're not home when the power cuts out. "It's just this lingering, haunting thing that is below you at all times," added Donald Richmond of Ortonville.
Local 4's Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer asked, "What would you say to folks who say, 'Hey, we're afraid to leave our homes for fear the power's going to go out?"
"I don't know how I'd respond to that. Power outages tend to be very short in nature," answered Trevor Lauer, Vice-President of Distribution Operations.
The December ice storm left the neighborhood without power for seven days. Lauer says there are lingering problems from that storm that need to be fixed. He also admitted these neighbors are living on what DTE calls a "high defect circuit."
He also says part of the problem is the area is filled with trees. While the trees add beauty to the neighborhood, they can also cause interference with the proper flow of power. "When you live in heavily treed areas, sometimes you will have outages because of the trees," said Lauer.
He said DTE has been aggressive about trimming trees wherever possible, but pointed out state law forbids the utility from cutting trees on private property. Lauer told Ruth to the Rescue, the company would work with customers who give permission to remove trees, if those trees actually threaten the power lines.
Power Out, Frustration Grows, Service Complaints
Neighbors say losing power is just the start of their problems. They say during outages DTE gives them conflicting information and shows no compassion about the cost of the outages.
"It was quite expensive. we spent over $300 just in gas during all these power outages, and DTE gave us $25 of credit on our bill ... I think $25 a day would be nice," said Sandy Harper of Ortonville.
"I got the run around so bad, I got so frustrated, I started crying started breaking down," Janette Biel of Ortonville told Ruth to the Rescue.
Lauer says he's reviewed the customer service calls to this neighborhood. "Times like this can be tense for everybody right? A lot of pressure on everybody, especially over the holiday storm. Everyone wanted to be with their families," he said.
Other residents complained about inaccurate estimates of when the power would actually be restored. They felt deadlines were set and missed over and over and over again. Even worse, residents say the online apps that are supposed to provide updates weren't accurate.