‘Electrified’ tree stump scares Clearwater homeowner

8 On Your Side

Brandon Paul says all he wanted to do is cut down a tree at his new home so he could relocated his fence line and recover three feet of his backyard. But the tree service he hired was in for a shocking surprise when they started grinding the stump.

“I felt it through my whole body to where it actually scared me and made me a little shaky,” said Coast to Coast Tree Service owner Kenny DeMello.  “I mean I was startled and I was happy to be alive that I didn’t get electrocuted.”

DeMello believes the trouble was caused by electrical current leaking from a nearby Duke Energy transformer that services underground power likes for Paul and his neighbors. The transformer is slightly tilted, as if the trees roots have moved it, but DeMello says repeated calls to Duke Energy by himself and the homeowners haven’t triggered any action by Duke.

“I’ve talked to them several times on the phone and they’ve given me the runaround a couple times,” said DeMello. “They pretty much just want it left alone,” said Paul.

After 8 On Your Side got involved Duke did send out workers twice to look at the equipment but haven’t committed to any repairs. A supervisor plans to return Wednesday to meet with the homeowner.

Late Monday Duke spokeswoman Peveeta Persaud told 8 On Your Side that “pretests” have not shown any indication of current leaking into the stump but a supervisor will do the tests again Wednesday during that planned meeting with the homeowner.

Peveeta says Duke might be able to de-energize transformer as an extra precaution if the tree trimming company comes back to finish the stump grinding  but there may be a charge for that service. Neighbors who would also lose power would have to get advance notice of the temporary outage.

Meanwhile, one electrical consultant who used to worker for Florida Power before it became Progress Energy and later Duke Energy, says the believes–based on the tree trimmer’s unequivocal claim of a shock–that Duke needs to address the problem.

“Absolutely correct,” said Mike Hanley. “That’s why I’m very puzzled that they’re not doing everything they can to get out there and get this thing take care of.”

Hanley says if it were his backyard he’d insist on Duke fixing the transformer. He says the homeowner can ask also for a “hold harmless” letter that places any liability for shock hazards back on Duke, or file a complaint with the Public Service Commission.

Hanley says power companies generally abhor consumer complaints to the PSC because enough of them can cost the companies a fortune in rate hikes. “I can show them exactly how to do it and it would take about ten minutes,” Hanley said.

Paul says he’s not trying to create a fuss but just wants to feel safe in his own backyard and can’t install his fence along the property line until the stump is gone. “It just seems like a big possibility for somebody to get hurt,” Paul said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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