Powerless in Homewood: Alabama Power ‘not doing enough’ about frequent outages, surges

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This is a CBS 42 Your Voice Your Station report

HOMEWOOD, Ala. (WIAT) — Homewood business owners tell CBS 42 they’ve been left in the dark while trying to get to the bottom of power outage problems that have spanned years.

After multiple calls and complaints, the owners of Savage’s Bakery and Johnny’s Restaurant say they have spent tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and damages for compressors, motors, and other equipment. The owners brought this story to CBS 42 after saying they were tired of paying for a problem that isn’t being fixed.

Van Scott, the owner of Savage’s Bakery said he has been dealing with power problems for over 20 years.

“We’ve lost compressors,” he said. “It knocks computers out. We have to reset computers. Just the other day, it blinked out.”

Scott said Alabama Power has sent crews out to fix the problem over the years. But the outages and surges have persisted.

“There’s no reason for it,” Scott said. “It could be a perfectly sunny day with no wind. Then boom. And it can happen two or three times in a row.”

Scott said Alabama Power recommended he buy several generators as a back-up, putting the costs on the customer.

“We can’t put in three separate generators,” said Scott. “This is a small little bakery, for Pete’s sake!”

He says he has paid roughly $10,000 in damages and repairs in the last year alone.

According to Stephen Smith, an electrical contractor with years of experience in the field and in servicing Homewood businesses, the issue is not with the customers’ wiring. He believes Alabama Power is to blame for providing bad service.

“It would be different if it were just isolated to a single customer, but this has been going on for years and years….the power company needs to be liable to a point,” Smith told CBS 42’s Landon Wexler. “I think it’s easier for them to dismiss it, but at some point you have to say, ‘yes this is our fault and this is what we’re prepared to do about it,’ not just brush the customer off.

EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Electrical contractor Stephen Smith discusses power problems in Homewood, Alabama Power response

A few doors down from Savage’s Bakery, the owner of Johnny’s Restaurant shares a similar story.

“It got to the point where I was losing customers because they didn’t think we were paying our power bill—which is a joke,” said Timothy Hontzas, the owner and chef of Johnny’s Restaurant. “We’ve never missed our power bill. Period.”

Hontzas said he has been dealing with power bumps since he opened his restaurant over 8 years ago. He said the power bumps happen so frequently, it’s nearly on a daily basis. Like Scott, Hontzas has paid thousands in equipment repairs and replacements.

“I don’t know if you know how much these coolers are,” Hontaz said. “We’re talking $25,000 to $30,000.”

It’s not just the businesses along 18th Street that are dealing with power problems. Residents in Homewood are too.

Homewood local Julie Tucker said in the nine years she lived in her home, power outages were a monthly occurrence.

“There are times that it goes out, and there’s not even a storm,” Tucker remarked.

She said her breaking point came at the height of the pandemic last March when supermarket staples were difficult to come by.

“Our power went off several times,” she said. “And we were really freaking out that we were going to lose everything in our refrigerator. And we couldn’t just run out to Target and get it because there [were] shortages.”

Tucker said her neighbors in Homewood were dealing with the same problem. After reaching out to the power company with no resolution in sight, her husband purchased a generator.

CBS 42’s Malique Rankin brought these concerns to Alabama Power. The company released the following statement:

“We are disappointed to hear that some of our customers in Homewood have experienced reliability issues. We strive to consistently meet the needs of our customers and encourage them to contact us if they have concerns so we can work to resolve any issues.  We will be reaching out to these customers very soon and are committed to finding solutions for our neighbors in Homewood.”

Alabama Power said they continually work with customers to address reliability concerns with routine inspections, repairs, and improvements. The company said it has made system improvements to the Homewood area over the last several years in an effort to expedite restoration in the case of outages. Alabama Power encourages customers who encounter problems to call their customer service department at 800-245-2244.

For the business owners left powerless, they say they want Alabama Power to take responsibility.

“Alabama Power is not doing enough to supply the city with power,” said Hontzas.

Scott said he isn’t asking or expecting Alabama Power to repay the money he’s lost. He just wants the power fixed, so it does not cost him more than it already has. 

“We shouldn’t be dealing with this,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to go to our expense to replace compressors and equipment, motors burned, because some group down there is not doing their job.”

Less than two weeks ago, a power surge fried one of the AC units at Savage’s Bakery. A replacement unit cost them $10,000. The owner said they’re filing a claim for reimbursement, which they expect will be denied.

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