DTE moves forward with plans to build new substation along Hilton

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published August 5, 2014

FERNDALE — Hoping to better secure the electrical service in Ferndale, DTE Energy has plans to build a new substation on a piece of private property it purchased that could turn into a nearly $50 million investment.

The Planning Commission in June approved DTE’s site plans for a new substation at 1550 Hilton Road, just south of East Nine Mile Road and next to the railroad in the industrial district, and City Council approved a special land use permit during the July 28 meeting to move the plans forward.

Ferndale already has two DTE substations within the city limits, and DTE plans to replace both substations with the new substation, though no timetable has been set.

“Staff, the city manager and DTE have been looking for some time for an appropriate location to build a substation, as it was something DTE notified as a need some time ago,” Community and Economic Development Director Derek Delacourt said. “This site east of the railroad tracks seems to fit both location and size for this development and has been approved by the Planning Commission.”

Roughly three years ago, as many as 5,500 Ferndale homes and businesses were without electricity for several days because of a transformer failure at the substation at West Nine Mile Road and Dover Street. Although that substation was built in 1952, DTE representatives said at the time that all substations undergo routine maintenance every 10 years.

Still, DTE Corporate Permit Coordinator Mick Blunden said the company identified a need for more transformers to more efficiently serve the community.

“Basically, this is to improve the strength in the electrical system and improve reliability with a much stronger system we are putting in,” he said. “Technically, we are increasing the capacity of the electricity that will be available for future demands. We will have stronger, bigger transformers and beefier electrical equipment.”

While the Planning Commission approved the site plans, it could only recommend to council to approve the special land use permit. Under the permit, the commission found that the new substation met six requirements, most notably that the substation would not detract from or reduce the desirability of the surrounding area.

The new substation would be going up in a growing industrial area of the city where most of the lots are already zoned for industrial use, Delacourt said.

“The city experienced some interruption in power due to some severe storms in the past, and these caused some issues getting the power back online,” Delacourt said. “DTE identified that the two substations were deficient and they needed to create another one to help support the city for both residents and businesses.”

Project Engineer Carl MacNeil spoke to council about the project and said the goal is to convert and revamp a total of 20 circuits, some of which also service Hazel Park, from the other two substations into the new one. Phase one of the project, which would include building the equipment and buildings on the lot, would be a roughly $30-million investment, while operations and enhancements beyond that could equal another $20 million investment.

The current plan is to have the construction of the substation done and have it operable in two years, and then begin converting the older circuits.

“The goal of this project is to improve reliability of the system and provide capacity for new growth and development in the area,” MacNeil said. “The estimate is construction of the substation would be about two years, and then phase one, as described, with building the first six circuits, is about three years, and phase two would be about another three years.”

The substation site would be contained within a 12-foot concrete panel wall that would screen the buildings and some other structures, but not completely screen the H-frame structures and wires.

Councilwoman Melanie Piana said the location and site plans make a new substation a victory for both the city and DTE.

“I think, based on the location and proximity to Hazel Park, this is really a win-win situation for both parties. That is what the Planning Commission felt and why the special land use permit was recommended unanimously,” she said. “The wall keeps it really well protected from residential homes and this is the best possible location, given the needs.”

While the new substation looks to make for a more stable system in Ferndale, Mayor Dave Coulter cautioned residents not to expect to never lose power once the substation is completed.

“We are not going to guarantee no more outages in Ferndale, but this will improve reliability and we appreciate that,” he said.