How electric service issues are causing delay in new home construction projects

In an interview with WOOD TV8, Sable Homes President John Bitely expressed frustration about being at a standstill with some new home construction projects due to the delay of electricity from Consumers Energy.

A Sable Homes home being constructed near Kent City is framed in and ready for drywall and other interior work. But to do that work, the home needs electricity, Bitely said.

“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,” Bitely said in his interview with WOOD TV8.

For this particular house near Kent City, the electricity has to be run underground to the site off 22 Mile Road. That requires the installation of a ground-level transformer. Sable Homes sent its application to get a power line to the home, one of 14 being built in the area, last August. They are still waiting for Consumers to move forward with their application.

Consumers blames the problem on a transformer shortage, according to WOOD TV8.

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.

Bitely’s 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,” he 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.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has called for stronger oversight of utility companies.

In a statement to WOOD TV 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.”

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.”

In one West Michigan community, home builders are required to install underground electricity in all new plots and site condo developments, Bitely said. For a neighborhood outside that area that didn’t have that requirement, Bitely requested over-ground power since the cost would be lower, and it would be an easier and quicker installation. Instead, the municipality cited Bitely as it was against the rules, and paid extra for underground power service. This extra power cost increased the cost of the home by 1.7%, which then gets passed on to the homeowners.

“So that 1.7% extra cost is because we are required to pay for underground electric service that the utility company can’t even provide because they don’t have the equipment,” Bitely said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Watch Bitely’s full interview, here.