DTE Energy linemen get ready to pull in new wiring as they work to replace overhead equipment on one of the company’s service poles.

DTE Energy linemen get ready to pull in new wiring as they work to replace overhead equipment on one of the company’s service poles.

Photo provided by DTE Energy

DTE: reliability and infrastructure improvements coming to Hills

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published January 6, 2020


FARMINGTON HILLS — A regional representative from DTE Energy visited with city officials Dec. 9 to relay a series of projects the company will be working on to improve infrastructure and customer reliability throughout the city.

After a set of severe storms in late July — which DTE officials previously said were the second-largest storms in the company’s history — a total of 7,000 customers in the city lost power. Some of those customers were without power for up to six days.

Between 2017 and 2019, local DTE customers lost power an average of once per year, with some losing power as many as six times in a single year.

Former Mayor Ken Massey previously told C & G Newspapers that DTE has a standard of having no more than two power outages in the city in a year-long term.

DTE Distribution Engineering Manager Mike Witkowski said the electric company’s target restoration varies from about two hours on a blue-sky day to eight hours or more on a stormy day. However, those times change drastically when storms as large as the ones in July come through.

“When you have hundreds of thousands of customers out (of power), the restoration time goes from the couple-of-hours range to the couple-of-days range due to the sheer volume of events and magnitude of some of the repairs,” Witkowski said. “Some of these large wind events we’ve had lately have been causing more damage than we’ve seen in the past.”

DTE officials have acknowledged many of the reliability issues Farmington Hills customers have dealt with in the face of severe weather. They said they have begun to work on these issues and have plans to improve the local coverage area.

The plans included fixing a substation at the corner of 12 Mile and Drake roads, which caught fire in 2016; launching a new reliability program; and increasing their tree trimming efforts by hiring more tree trimming crews in hopes of mitigating issues before they arise.

Witkowski said that, when the substation caught fire in 2016, the company “reconfigured the whole area” by jumpering circuits from other substations — tying circuits together — as a work-around to maintain service. Repairing the substation will bring circuits that were previously out of commission back into service, allowing the company to have jumpering ability throughout the area.

Farmington Hills Assistant City Manager Gary Mekjian believes the substation repair will be “a positive thing” for customers.

A newly launched reliability program, implemented after the July storms, has been going “pretty well” in the Farmington Hills area, Witkowski said.

The program, which combines engineering, design and construction components, works to fix infrastructure and reliability issues that have been flagged due to several outages or issues.

Witkowski said the company pinpointed those issues to three major areas in Farmington Hills: 10 Mile and Inkster roads, Orchard Lake and 11 Mile roads, and Orchard Lake and 12 Mile roads. He said construction has been completed in two of the areas, and one is currently being worked on.

“They replaced a handful of poles and also put up a few new fuse locations,” he said.

Knowing that approximately 70% of outages occur from tree-related incidents, DTE has plans to ramp up its tree trimming program over the next five years, as well.

“We are trimming more now than we had historically, in terms of distance away from the power lines,” Witkowski said. “That should give us a longer timeline from the time we trim to the time we have to go back.”

High transmission areas will be the main focus for 2020, and neighborhoods on Inkster Road will get attention in 2021, company representatives said. They also said their customers have seen a 67% improvement in reliability in tree trimming areas.

Overall, DTE has plans to invest $4.2 billion in electric infrastructure upgrades over the next five years, a plan that began in 2018. DTE officials did not have an investment amount specific to Farmington Hills, though Witkowski said the substation repair itself is a “multi-million-dollar project.”

Mekjian thought the updates DTE provided to city officials at the Dec. 9 meeting were “satisfactory,” though he couldn’t say whether the defined improvements would result in overall improvements to reliability. He said he has lingering questions about what, if any, other improvements the company plans to pursue to improve reliability for customers.

“It’s not like we have an adversarial relationship. We have a very good relationship. I think (city officials) would just like to have a little more clarity as to what the plans are in the city over the next five years,” Mekjian said. “Perhaps they don’t look that far ahead. I don’t know, but that’s kind of we were looking for.”