DTE to address power outages after meeting with city

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published October 7, 2015

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ROYAL OAK — City commissioners were expected to continue their DTE Energy discussions about ongoing neighborhood power outages during Monday’s meeting, carrying on talks that began last month.

The City Commission was scheduled to meet Oct. 5, after press time, and talk about adopting a formal resolution of dissatisfaction concerning frequent power outages in one northeast neighborhood. That area is bounded by Rochester Road, Stephenson Highway, Gardenia Avenue and 12 Mile Road.

Since the commission proposed the idea of publicly and formally voicing its dissatisfaction, DTE Media Relations Senior Specialist Scott Simons said executives met with city officials Oct. 1 to propose a solution.

“What we’ll be doing is inspecting and upgrading equipment inside the substation that feeds that area,” Simons said. “We’ll also be doing maintenance on the circuit itself, such as poles and equipment on power lines.”

Simons said that although the company will be performing the upgrades and maintenance, the majority of outages in that area are caused by trees. He said research has shown that,  especially in storm situations, about two-thirds of outages are due to tree interference.

“So tree trimming will be a big part of what we’ll be doing,” he said, adding that the work would be done hand-in-hand with the city arborist.

Simons said DTE would be working with the city to communicate with residents.

“We realize that that particular area of Royal Oak hasn’t met the standards of service that we want for all of our customers, and that is why we are taking action, and this work will be done by the end of the year,” he said.

The repair timeline is a new development since Sept. 21, when interim City Attorney Mark Liss said DTE planned service upgrades for the area, but there wasn’t a date set.

Commissioners originally wanted to file a grievance against DTE with the Michigan Public Service Commission, but Liss determined that although residents and city officials were dissatisfied with the number of power outages in their neighborhood, DTE was within its guidelines as determined by the state commission.

According to MPSC guidelines, an electric utility shall restore service within 36 hours to no less than 90 percent of its customers experiencing service interruptions during normal and catastrophic conditions, and under normal conditions shall restore service within eight hours to no less than 90 percent of its customers experiencing service interruptions. An electric utility shall not experience five or more same circuit repetitive interruptions in a 12-month period on more than 5 percent of its circuits.

“I’m a little perturbed that we’re content with this whole process that they only respond to concerns when we bring it up on this table and put a megaphone behind it,” said City Commissioner Jeremy Mahrle.

Commissioners had considered filing a grievance with the  MPSC because of DTE’s tree pruning services.

In August, a contractor for DTE erroneously marked trees for complete removal in the city before following the required communication protocols, which caused an uproar from residents and city officials.

DTE Energy Regional Manager of Corporate and Government Affairs Michael Palchesko said following the tree markings that DTE has a process in place, which includes communicating with homeowners regarding a tree identified as possibly needing to come down before marking any Xs.

“Unfortunately the individual who was working along Whitcomb Street — I’m not sure why — didn’t follow that process and put Xs on the trees,” he said following the incident.

Members of the City Commission were upset because the trees were tagged five months after Palchesko spoke before the commission and promised enhanced communications to residents and that the company would cease its Ground to Sky tree trimming for a more conservative vegetation management program.

Liss said that following the August incident, DTE organized a meeting between representatives of the city and the company and that DTE now coordinates its trimming program with the city’s certified arborist.

Liss said tree trimming on two streets has been completed and apparently to everyone’s satisfaction.

“And (we) believe that DTE will continue to do that as they go through the city with their vegetation control plan,” Liss said.

Liss said that based on DTE’s rapid response to the city’s concerns, its responsiveness in cooperating with the city’s arborist and its planned upgrades to the electrical system in the area experiencing frequent power outages, he did not recommend that the city of Royal Oak perfect a grievance at this time.