DTE Energy officials responded this week to inquiries into industrial electric power issues in Dexter that have become concerning enough for city of Dexter officials that city staff have begun officially investigating the matter.
While discussion by government officials and industrial business owners at the most recent Dexter Business Summit indicated a more comprehensive infrastructure problem at play brought to light by multiple electrical power service disruptions, word from DTE is that the problem is more routine and much less frequent than otherwise indicated.
“We do know that they have problems on occasion, but no more than other (business parks),” said John Austerberry, DTE communications manager.
Austerberry said that the last circuit level outage occurred on January 10 of this year. Circuit level means a total outage or blackout. A low level outage or brown out is the other kind of power disruption that people are familiar with and last occurred in Dexter’s industrial park on December 11, 2013, according to DTE’s records.
DTE powers business parks like Dexter’s in one of two ways. They will either sell the power to the business park in one big lump, and then redistribute the power to each business – or they sell it to each business individually. Austerberry says that DTE uses the latter to supply the business park, from the Diamond substation, at the corner of 2nd and Edison Streets.
The problems Austerberry referenced were temporary pulls done when something interfered with the system, like a tree hitting the lines. When that happens, the system acts like the circuit breaker on your house, but on a larger scale. When it detects a possible overload it shuts down to prevent a larger and more permanent and larger scale power outage.
“As it’s designed to do,” Austerberry said.
City officials paint a different picture with their assessment of the matter, which is based on feedback from DTE’s customers in the industrial park and first-hand experience living and working in the Dexter energy market.
The Dexter industrial park has been experiencing rolling brown outs for some time now. accordin to Community Development Manager Michelle Aniol. She said in an emailed interview that they have been happening “since before I came to work for the City, which was January 2014.”
While most power outages have lasted less than one minute, it has cost the businesses operating time and money. The city has not collected a complete amount of data on the amount of business lost.
“Even a minor blip in power of a couple of seconds will shut down an automated system. Many of our businesses have automated manufacturing operations. When the power goes out, the machine stops and whatever work was being done, has to start over,” Aniol said.
The Dexter business community met earlier this month to talk about the current environment in Dexter. Aniol asked all of the businesses affected by the power problems to record when it happened and how long it happened.
City Manager Courtney Nicholls said, in an emailed statement, that the brown outs were not dangerous, but that the city has “heard over the years from various businesses that they have had issues with brownouts or short term power outages.”
“The City has no control over the power grid, that is DTE’s responsibility. We have continued our dialogue with DTE on behalf of the businesses to facilitate their working together to find solutions,” Nicholls said.
At the early March meeting, Aniol said that the city was still in talks with DTE to resolve the situation. And Dexter Area Chamber of Commerce President James Lippens expressed concern about the power outages from the broader perspective of all business owners.
“Power is always a very difficult situation,” said Lippens, who owns and operates Dexter’s Payroll Vault franchise, a company that remotely handles company payroll, background checks, and other functions typically handled by a human resources department.
As Lippens said, most of Dexter’s manufacturing operations use automated systems. They have been using generators to supplement the power.
“Generator systems are very costly,” Lippens said. “With a more reliable power system, you would have less (need) to invest in (backup generators),” which could allow investment in other areas of the business, making this a critical issue for the Dexter business community.
Austerberry said that DTE is going to be conducting tree trimming operations in Washtenaw County over the course of 2016, which can only improve system reliability in Dexter. Tree trimming for Dexter has not been scheduled yet. `