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West Michigan home builders 'stuck' as transformer shortage causes major delays

A high global demand for specialized steel and wiring has caused a critical shortage of electrical transformers.

NEWAYGO COUNTY, Mich. — Building a new home is taking longer than it used to. There's a shortage of of electrical transformers, and it's leaving some nearly-finished homes unlivable. 

Supply chain shortages have continued to burden the economy following the COVID-19 pandemic, and now it's having a huge impact on the home-building industry. 

According to the Edison Electric Institute, a survey done by the American Public Power Association in the beginning of 2022 showed their members were having to wait an average of a year for a delivery of new transformers. In 2018, the wait was only about three months. 

"It isn't just locally or statewide, it's happening nationally," said John Bitely, President of Sable Homes. "So, it is a real problem."

A high global demand for specialized steel and wiring has caused a critical shortage of these electrical transformers.

"We're having problems getting electricity to hook up to the projects we're building like homes, apartments and conduminiums," Bitely said. 

According to the The National Association of Home Builders, their concerns led them to send a letter to the Biden Administration in mid-October, asking them to take action and address the shortage transformers.

Tuesday afternoon, Bitely walked a 13 On Your Side crew through a home in Newaygo County that is under construction. The house has been ready for it's electric to be turned on since Sept. 23. 

"The drywall is all hung in this house and it's ready for mudding, but we can't finish it," Bitely said. 

Bitely said the house still needs about two months of work to be finished, and the owners, one of whom is pregnant, are planning to move in in March.

The problem? Consumers Energy estimated it will be months before they can turn on the electricity. 

"If we can't finish the home on time, that pushes them past their mortgage and they will lose their interest rate lock," Bitely said. "Plus, they may not have anywhere to live."

Bitely explained that they can't work on the house without electric, because they need to warm the home for dehumidification, and to make sure that supplies don't freeze or get damaged.  

"We're at the point where we're ready to do drywall, but we can't without heating up the home because otherwise, it'll freeze and get ruined," Bitely said. 

"In the summer months, we can get by because it doesn't freeze at night," he added, "but we're now past that timeframe."

Bitely said that for the home in Newaygo County, they are planning to buy a generator to warm the house and finish construction. 

"So, we'll have that running 24/7 for two months to have the home done in time," he said, "and we will eat the cost of that which could get up to nearly $5,000." 

Bitely said this is a burden for the builders, but more importantly, the buyers who need a place to live. 

"We're stuck in the middle, and we'd like our customers to be happy," Bitely said. "We don't want to have to tell them 'oh look at this nice new home that you can't move in to.'"

"And because [Consumers Energy] is a utility company, it seems is that we as consumers have no choice," he added. "If you've only got one supplier, one source, it's frustrating but we're stuck and we have to deal with them."

Consumers Energy told 13 On Your Side, "Consumers Energy has been actively communicating to those requesting new service installation that their work may be delayed due to national equipment shortages and Consumers Energy is taking every step possible to secure the equipment we need to serve our customers."


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