Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

A2 Power Outages

2. September 2006 • MarkDilley
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From an email we received:

Over the last couple of days particularly, the electricity in Ann Arbor has been going off and on. On Friday morning between 5.30 am and 6.00 am there were 11 instances of a quick power off and back on. Each outage lasting a second or two.

In addition over night last night this same thing was happening in the early am hours 1 to 2 or so. Similar symptoms. These kinds of outages can likely lead to the damage of lots of gear that people have these days.

I think it’s worth publishing this since DTE on the phone doesn’t seem to take it all that seriously and that I’ve not seen it reported anywhere even though it’s well known to us in the town.

Anyone else experiencing this?

  1. Yes, but not during the past few days. Prior to that, we were getting (only) one outage at a time every few days over the past couple of weeks. Typically these lasted only a couple of seconds. One lasted a few minutes.

    I live on Broadway, which is shared by at least three circuits.

    Since the timing of these outages is not shared citywide, we are apparently experiencing outages that depend on what circuit is involved.

       —David Cahill    Sep. 2 '06 - 06:13PM    #
  2. I’ve had this happen, but not recently. I blame the chewing gum holding together the DTE wires. I do know that some DTE executive lives in AA. I wonder if his power goes out?

       —Just a homeowner    Sep. 3 '06 - 05:01AM    #
  3. After checking around with neighbors in the Oxbridge area where we live, I found that the two recent events were happening around our neighborhood and beyond. In addition traffic lights on Packard were impacted and kinda going nuts overnight Friday night Saturday morning and this was known to the police. Last night, Saturday night, Sunday morning.. it’s been fine. Why? What’s going on? Was something fixed? Can DTE at least tell us?

       —original emailer    Sep. 3 '06 - 02:27PM    #
  4. A couple people on the south side of town—the Washtenaw area—were reporting outages last night.

       —MattH    Sep. 3 '06 - 06:16PM    #
  5. Unfotunately, I suffered mightily at the hands of these repeating blackouts. Despite an expensive surge protector two events spaced about 10 minutes apart fried my 80 gb hard drive and I’m going to spend an incredible amount of time correcting the issue. Until I moved to Michigan I never before experienced such inconsistant power service.

    A friend told me that DTE is notorious for using something termed ‘dirty power’ which has wide fluctuations in power (thus the constant and regular dimming & brightening of lights, etc)... which undermines the effectiveness of surge protectors. If this sounds correct I’d love to hear more from those who know more about this kind of thing.

       —Jeff Meyers    Sep. 3 '06 - 10:55PM    #
  6. ”... two events spaced about 10 minutes apart fried my 80 gb hard drive …”

    Although I’ve never had anything remotely this damaging take place [knock on formica], there has been a rare, computer-related, circumstancial indication of momentary outages over the last couple years or so. On these few occasions, after leaving the computer in ‘sleep’ mode during the night, it was found to be turned off the next morning. Not crashed or ‘frozen’—which has also happened—but off. This seems to indicate a very brief power outage, similiar to what may happen during a strong thunderstorm or ice storm, to which computers (or mine, at least) are extremely sensitive. In none of these several instances was there any storm or strong wind activity during the night, and in one case a digital clock or two had to be reset.

    Jeff’s far more severe experience gives yet more reason for going out to buy a good UPS (to plug the computer & peripherals into) and especially to back up more regularly onto an external drive that’s usually kept offline (so as not to be in use if/when a surge occurs).

       —hale    Sep. 5 '06 - 12:01AM    #
  7. I live on the northwest side of town (Maple/Miller area) and also experience these types of outages/fluctuations. It’s not unusual to come home and find evidence of a power outage (clock radio flashing, microwave needs to be reset, etc.) or to have the lights suddenly dim and brighten. I too would like to learn more about DTE’s “dirty power” and what can be done to fix this. Thanks for raising the issue.

       —another homeowner    Sep. 5 '06 - 03:26AM    #
  8. I looked around on the net and found this person:

    The Electric Detective solves your electrical power problems quickly and cost effectively. If you are experienceing electrical problems in you business or industrial facility that are eating up your profits call the Electric Detective at 847-989-5517 for a FREE consultation and estimate for solving your problem.

    (no endorsement implied, but I had never heard the phrase “forensic electrical power engineering” before).

       —Edward Vielmetti    Sep. 5 '06 - 04:12AM    #
  9. Ah, one more – a place in Madison Heights that carries a plug-in power quality monitor from Fluke:

    The VR101S is the perfect monitoring system for catching sags, swells, transients, outages and frequency variations on line voltage. It is an ideal companion tool for the Fluke 43, extending its capability when voltage events occur intermittently over a long period of time.

    This baby will set you back about $600 or so, but I’ll bet if you’re serious you could rent one for less.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Sep. 5 '06 - 04:17AM    #
  10. I’m also intrigued by the “dirty power” concept. Hmm. DTE Energy is (in theory) accountable to the Public Service Commission.

    Has anyone contacted the Commission about these frequent, annoying and even damaging outages?

       —David Cahill    Sep. 5 '06 - 04:42AM    #
  11. Yes, indeed. DTE is accountable to the consumers and their representatives for this level of service and reliability. Just to clarify, these are not just fluctuations in power that people are experiencing, but it is power off, then power on, with the out time lasting from a second or two (the vast majority of the outage) to minutes (rare)

       —original emailer    Sep. 5 '06 - 07:02AM    #
  12. Our Woodcreek area property borders a DTE easement. At least twice a month a DTE or Comcast truck is observed working on the overhead transmission lines or cables. Power outages occur at about the same rate, and yes, its a big pain to reset everything. Comcast additionally seems to cut out wireless service without explanation though by rebooting the computer it is restored. Also a major nuisance to recover work in progress.

       —Abuelita    Sep. 5 '06 - 06:16PM    #
  13. I’ve had frequent power outages for the past 5 years. Nearly everytime the temp is over 80, power is out from 6P till 1A. Repeated calls to DTE fail to get results, but they are necessary to document the problem. The company doesn’t consider power outages to be a problem until you report 9 outages over a 6-12 month period. However, when the power returned earlier this summer after an outage, it fried my air-conditioner. I called the Public Service Commission and got a phone call from a DTE representative within a day and a letter apologizing soon thereafter. The Public Service Commission was able to get my service improved immediately and my electrical service has been great ever since.

       —Karen Luck    Sep. 5 '06 - 10:40PM    #
  14. This summer I know we’ve had some outages on Maiden Lane during the day, while I was at work; I’ve had to reset the microwave, stove and answering machine clocks around our house at least four or five times this summer. So far we haven’t lost anything to surges, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

       —Lane Maiden    Sep. 6 '06 - 12:37AM    #
  15. ok, here we go again. Today is September 6th. In the Oxbridge area, Cambridge, Vinewood, Oxford, etc. between 12 am and 2 am this morning we had about 10, count ‘em TEN events where the power went completely off, stayed off for one or two seconds and then came back on. I was watching the lights in houses across the street going off and on at the same time. I dunno, Baghdad may be better off on the infrastructure side. Others?

       —original emailer    Sep. 6 '06 - 02:04PM    #
  16. We had a three hour outage in the south side of E. Stadium near Packard/Iroquois on Labor Day. No explanation. A loud noise was heard prior to the outage – something with a transformer? There was no problem with weather that day. Who knows.

       —Leah    Sep. 6 '06 - 03:27PM    #
  17. Yes, Leah, a loud noise often means a transformer has blown. This has happened several times here on Broadway over the years.

       —David Cahill    Sep. 6 '06 - 04:36PM    #
  18. I can report similar outages in Ann Arbor Hills area (Londonderry SE of Devonshire). Last night starting right after midnight repeated outages (off then right back on) every five to ten minutes. This also happened around the same time (starting just after midnight) on a few different days in the last few weeks. One day there were repeated outages in the early AM (4:30-6:30) as in the original post.

       —anon    Sep. 6 '06 - 09:25PM    #
  19. Same here. Same time and senario. It happened last night as well as a couple of other days within the last week or so on Radcliffe Ave.

       —Alan    Sep. 6 '06 - 09:41PM    #
  20. Been a quiet normal night (no outages) for power.. Still tough getting any useful sort of response from DTE.

       —original emailer    Sep. 7 '06 - 02:26PM    #
  21. Ann Arbor news is now running an article saying the problem originally reported and corroborated by other commenters is now fixed. Thanks to all.

       —original emailer    Sep. 7 '06 - 09:33PM    #
  22. Here’s the Ann Arbor News story:

    Problem was traced to a bad voltage regulator. I’m sure there is some way to wire up a line logger to a phone line so that you could alert DTE with a message whenever the problem occured, to avoid this lame excuse:

    DTE spokesman Scott Simons said Wednesday evening that the intermittent power problem was related to a voltage regulator and had been fixed. The problem affected a limited area, but he couldn’t say exactly how many customers experienced it.

    Stockton said many of his neighbors also were affected. He said he called DTE several times beginning on Friday and was frustrated with the company’s response.

    Simons said the problem was difficult to isolate.

    “It’s like taking your car into the repair shop,’’ Simons said. “You have a problem, and you experience it and you take it into the shop, and they can’t find it, because it’s not occurring at that moment.’’

    (no, if you’re a professional you instrument the network so that when the problem happens you get notified about it in real time with details and not just stories)

       —Edward Vielmetti    Sep. 9 '06 - 07:05AM    #
  23. Indeed, one would think with this kind of scenario we were all seeing, that one would expect that DTE monitoring of some sort would’ve seen it. In addition, other service providers such as comcast might very well have seen their services dropping out and coming back repeatedly plus the city experienced traffic lights getting messed up. Lastly, in another communication from DTE they seem to think this was reported first on 9/6. HAH! The issue aside from the intermittent nature of the problem is that the customer service folks on the phones did not appropriately tease out what was going on from the callers. This is the fundamental issue. Indications are they thought they were getting reports of fluctuations, eg lights dimming and brightening rather than true off/on events. It’s like going to the doctor, one cannot get the right diagnosis without listening, asking all the needed questions, and then actively pursuing it from there.

       —original emailer    Sep. 9 '06 - 07:56PM    #
  24. Here we go again – today another loud pop (transformer) and two hours of a complete power outage. The ONLY number listed is the emergency number which lets you report the outage but no one to talk to.

    In any case, I always hook up my connected line phone ($9.99 at Target) and call 1-800-477-4747 immediately. Too bad it lacks a speed dial feature! :-)

    So, they haven’t fixed it. But you all knew that.

       —Leah    Sep. 16 '06 - 12:12AM    #
  25. Actually, not having an emergency number with a live person on the other end helps to keep people from calling in the heat of the moment and venting on the customer service rep.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of some of those phone calls (not in the power industry though), and it can be very demoralizing. You want to help the person with the problem, but there’s so much venom directed at you that it becomes hard to stay non-defensive and helpful.

    However, if the power company doesn’t have someone or something contact you a little while later to let you know that your problem is being addressed (or some other method for making that determination)...that’s definitely NOT a good thing.

       —kena    Sep. 16 '06 - 12:44AM    #
  26. Every year we have had an outage and families are put at discomfort. Nothing has been done to either avoid it or fix the problem rapidly. Monopoly is not good and even after deregulation we have to face this issue of outage at the Riverwood subdivision off of Newport Rd, Ann Arbor 48103 every year.

       —Umang Shah    Jan. 16 '07 - 10:39PM    #
  27. The only real solution would be to move all the power lines underground. That would be expensive, but it would dramatically reduce maintenance costs and pretty much end the power system’s vulnerability to ice storms.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jan. 16 '07 - 11:06PM    #
  28. I don’t know about that, Larry. When I lived in a condo in Walled Lake, the utilities were all underground but we had more power outages than I have experienced since moving here.

       —Tom Brandt    Jan. 16 '07 - 11:43PM    #
  29. The utilities may have been underground within your complex, but I suspect the power lines out to Walled Lake have many miles of above-ground exposure. (A cost of living in remote suburbia.)

    Back in the 1970s, the city of East Lansing, as part of its downtown renovation project, put all the overhead wires underground throughout the central business district. The city paid for much of it, but part of financing came from the utilities, which expected to see lower maintenance costs.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jan. 17 '07 - 01:04AM    #
  30. In addition, the aesthetic appeal of out-of-sight utility wires is tremendous. I live in East Lansing and am downtown almost every day but I never noticed the lack of overhead wires until now.

       —Jeff Dean    Jan. 17 '07 - 02:13AM    #
  31. You should have seen it before. The tangle of wires was so dense in some places that it was almost cartoonish!

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jan. 17 '07 - 02:55AM    #
  32. A few months back I engaged a technician doing work near my house in a conversation regarding underground vs. overhead wiring and he emphatically supported overhead. He said that underground wiring simply has a different array of problems (freezing and heaving, tree roots, etc.) and when they are subjected to these issues the breaks are difficult to find and expensive to repair; sometimes lengths of buried lines need to be dug up just to find the problem. When I offered that this is not what I have heard from people in subdivisions with buried lines he argued that the subs are just too young; once they have mature trees they will have just as many headaches, or more, as subdivisions with mature trees and overhead lines.

    While I understand his points, I admit, I had a hard time swallowing his logic entirely. It still feels to me that when you factor all maintenance costs in that underground should be better (regardless of looks). I am purposefully ignoring the initial installation costs as I don’t think the cost to put the lines underground are significantly higher during the construction of a new subdivision, for sure there is a big cost to convert an existing one.

       —abc    Jan. 17 '07 - 03:21AM    #
  33. “A few months back I engaged a technician doing work near my house in a conversation regarding underground vs. overhead wiring and he emphatically supported overhead.”

    This is the party line from the utilities as well. Unless you pay for it (either directly or subsidized through the cost of development), they refuse to pay for the cost of burying utilities. Unfortunately for Michigan communities, the courts have sided with the utilities on this point.

       —John Q.    Jan. 17 '07 - 04:06AM    #
  34. Dude. I just realized that this must be part of why new subs look so bare to me – no utility poles or overhead wires.

       —Murph    Jan. 17 '07 - 04:09AM    #
  35. John Q. I’m not talking about the cost to bury them, just the cost to maintain them either over or under.

    Murph, could the bareness be the lack of trees? Since big developers tend to strip the land before they build I find the lack of trees the most off-putting. I don’t miss the overhead wires, although it does add a certain 19th century charm.

       —abc    Jan. 17 '07 - 05:57PM    #
  36. That’s also part of the party line. They’ve always argued that the cost of maintenance is one of the reasons against burying lines. I was surprised that the page that I linked to include some of the pro-burying arguments as they often don’t acknowledge the reasons why putting them underground can be a good thing.

    The lack of trees is another factor in the starkness of new developments. But this isn’t always due to how the land was developed. Especially in Washtenaw County, a lot of development is going on farmland that was long stripped of any trees. The forward-looking communities are the ones that require developers to plant trees in the street right-of-way and on the lots so that 30 years from now, you’ll have some streetscape and relief from the cookie-cutter homes.

       —John Q.    Jan. 17 '07 - 07:23PM    #
  37. The trees are definitely part of it, and are the part I’ve noted explicitly in the past. But even the subs that are old enough for mature trees (at least 20+ years) that have buried utils seem odd.

       —Murph    Jan. 17 '07 - 11:22PM    #
  38. Just a personal note on the power outage…
    My power came on approximately a half hour ago (3pm) has been out since 1am Saturday! I live in the older portion of Ypsi Twp. (Packard/Hewitt) area and I must admit that I’m baffled as to how long my power was off. I’ve lived in Michigan most of my life and this recent ice storm pales in comparison to the ones that I have seen over the years. DTE blamed it on the ice heavy tree limbs taking out the power lines. My neighborhood would be a prime candidate for underground lines! These beautiful, mature trees are not going to go away for a long time….

       —annarbor1us    Jan. 18 '07 - 01:55AM    #
  39. One person at work (Pure Visibility) still has power out in Saline.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Jan. 18 '07 - 02:35AM    #