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Consumers Energy, DTE Energy to upgrade high voltage lines, the "backbone" of electric distribution

A contractor from Consumers Energy restore power in Grand Rapids.
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
A contractor from Consumers Energy working to restore power. Consumers plans to spend $100 million to upgrade part of its electricity distribution system.

Consumers Energy plans to spend $100 million to upgrade "the backbone" of its electricity distribution system. High voltage lines move electricity to transformers, which then "step down" the power to lower voltages for customers.

The move comes as climate change makes storms become more fierce and frequent.

"As we are facing more severe weather in the years to come, we're going to need to make sure our grid is more resilient in the face of higher wind gusts and more frequent storms," said spokesman Josh Paciorek.

DTE will survey its entire high voltage distribution system (HVD) in the weeks ahead, looking for tree limbs that are overhanging the lines, as well as broken parts at the tops of poles that might have been damaged in previous storms, as well as leaning poles.

Paciorek said a downed high voltage wire can cut power to hundreds of homes.

"In those areas that we rebuilt HVD lines, we virtually eliminated power outages along those lines," he said.

DTE Energy said it's also investing in high voltage upgrades. The utility plans to invest more than $400 million in upgrades through 2025, affecting more than 360,000 electric customers.

The upgrades include rebuilding nearly 220 miles of high voltage subtransmission lines as well as upgrading or expanding 15 voltage transformation stations.

DTE Energy also said it is increasing its investment in tree trimming, with 5,000 miles of trees trimmed since last summer. The utility said in communities where tree trimming has been done, there is a 60-70% increase in reliability.

DTE said it is also constructing new substations, reconfiguring overhead power lines and creating a pilot to study the efficacy of burying existing wires to improve overall reliability, particularly during severe weather.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Public Service Commission continues its inquest of how regulated utilities responded to a series of storms in August 2021 that left around 1 million Michiganders without electricity.

Storms that swept across the Lower Peninsula August 10-12, 2021 brought winds gusts exceeding 70 mph, causing widespread damage to utility poles and lines. Some utility customers went more than a week without power.

The Commission has held two technical conferences and taken public comments so far during the inquest, and has taken initial steps to begin requiring utilities to provide detailed data on outages and storm response actions.

Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are corporate sponsors of Michigan Radio.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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