The action taken by Tech Molded Plastics was borne out of frustration more than anything else, according to Mark Hanaway, its vice president.
The Meadville manufacturer of custom injection molded plastic parts has experienced intermittent power outages more than two dozen times in the past 19 months — disrupting both the firm’s production and computers.
In the majority of the disruptions, no cause was given and there were no weather events, according to Hanaway.
“It’s just a momentary lapse (in electrical power), but it shuts down our entire operation,” he said. “Every one of our (32) presses has had to be restarted plus all our computers. We’ve had to spend a significant amount of energy and effort each time.”
Providing battery backup to each manufacturing press isn’t feasible because banks of batteries would be needed next to each of the 32 presses, Hanaway said. It would be prohibitive in terms of both cost and space, he said. An uninterrupted power source or automatic generators to power the 32 presses also would be cost prohibitive.
Because of more than a dozen interruptions between March and August 2012, Tech filed an informal complaint with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in August 2012 against Pennsylvania Electric Co. (Penelec), whose transmission lines supply electricity to Tech’s plant on French Street.
Informal complaints against utilities are confidential and not available for public inspection, according to PUC regulations.
Scott Surgeoner, spokesman for Penelec’s parent firm First Energy, declined all comment on the matter because the complaint case is active.
A PUC administrative law judge has ordered Tech and Penelec to mediation in an attempt to resolve the matter before seeking a formal PUC hearing.
“We’re in discussions with them to minimize or reduce the disruptions,” Hanaway said. “We want to find a remedy or solution, if possible.”
However, Hanaway is concerned that other entities are being affected as well.
No other complaints apparently have been filed with the PUC, but Jay Verno, president of Hagan Business Machines of Meadville, said his firm’s Mead Avenue location has seen power fluctuations and outages.
“It’s not nearly the problem for us as it for a manufacturing firm like Tech,” Verno said. “We have good backup and recovery systems, so it’s not cost us any data.”
However, both firms are concerned over potential damage to equipment.
“I think it might be a larger problem with the transmission lines — it would be a problem not only for Tech, but the community as a whole,” Hanaway said.
Hanaway said he’s hoping Meadville businesses or individuals that have experienced transmission problems will file informal complaints with the PUC.
According to the PUC’s website, when an informal complaint is filed through the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services, an investigator works to facilitate discussion between the parties to resolve the complaint. The process is much less time-consuming than the formal complaint process and usually results in a quicker resolution to the case, according to the PUC.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.
To file an informal complaint, call Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s complaint hotline toll-free number at (800) 692-7380.
More information also is available by visiting puc.state.pa.us and then clicking on the “Filing Complaints” link.