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When the Storms Subside...

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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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  • Sep 17, 2021

Michigan residents are taking aim at DTE Energy over the recent events that brought major outages.  Residents claim that inadequate tree trimming is the reason for damage to the grid during extreme weather.  “The grid in the older parts of DTE’s service area is weaker and less able to avoid outages when there are storms,” said Douglas Jester, a consultant with 5 Lakes Energy who intervenes in utilities’ regulatory cases. “And a significant part of the reliability of an overhead distribution grid is tree trimming.”  These complaints are being made just weeks after the utilities announced plans to improve preventative maintenance.  On September 1, DTE Energy announced an incremental $70 million investment to combat extreme weather-related power outages. The plan will direct additional funds to remove trees and trim branches away from power lines.  The utility recognizes the need for more frequent vegetation management. Previously, tree trimming was addressed every nine years while utilities like Xcel Energy operate on a three-to-five year trim cycle.  To be fair, they have had a rough season.  The DTE service area experienced five tornadoes this summer and eight storms with tropical force wind gusts of 39 to 74 miles per hour. High winds and extreme moisture in the ground uprooted trees which pulled down wires and poles. “We tripled our tree trimming effort and doubled our infrastructure upgrades several years ago when we began to see more severe weather patterns. But the extreme weather we experienced this summer – nine hard hitting, severe storms in nine weeks – is something we have never experienced,” said DTE President and CEO Jerry Norcia.  “That’s why we made the decision to invest even more now, directing an additional $70 million into tree trimming to combat the large and recurring outages that have been so challenging for our customers. We will do what it takes to protect Michiganders from power outages caused by catastrophic storms and extreme weather patterns.”  Despite these assurances, many are questioning the grid’s reliability and resilience.   "For years now, our residential rates have been skyrocketing, eating up more of family budgets, and yet all we get is more blackouts, longer outage times, and less reliability," Bob Allison, deputy director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters said.

The area also struggles with aging equipment. “We have a lot of old equipment and it’s in need of faster replacement,”  Douglas Jester added.  Michigan is not alone in this regard.  The U.S. grid is said to be the ‘largest interconnected machine’ on the planet.  However, it’s also becoming one of the oldest machines, which is nothing to boast about in the world of technology.  Modernizing the grid with new hardware and software is unavoidable.  Allowing AI full access to decades of data could help utilities dramatically reduce the strain on the grid.  Smart technology promises to provide forecasts, reduce human error and detect disasters.  When the storms let up and repairs are complete, how quickly can utilities improve the reliability and resilience of the grid? 


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