DTE Energy unveiled a plan Friday that it said will put the utility on track to be in the top half of best-performing utilities nationwide — for both frequency and duration of outages — by increasing average reliability by more than 60% within five years.
The distribution grid plan, filed Friday with the Michigan Public Service Commission, accelerates system upgrades, such as transitioning to a smart grid with full automation within five years, which DTE says will result in smaller and shorter outages, and updating 90% of the circuits in Detroit within three years. The remaining 10% will be actively undergoing upgrades after three years, DTE said.
“We recognize we need to do better and we are working at it,” Trevor Lauer, vice chairman and group president of DTE Energy told the Free Press on Friday in regards to making the grid more resilient and reliable.
If DTE achieves its goal of being among the better-performing utilities nationwide, it would be a big improvement from its current status. Both DTE and Consumers Energy, which provide electricity to the majority of Michigan residents, are among the worst-performing utilities in the country in how long it takes them to get the lights back on after a power outage, ranking 38th and 37th, respectively, when compared with 40 similar size utilities, a 2021 review of data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows.
“That’s where we need to improve dramatically over the next five years,” Lauer said.
More on DTE and Consumers’ performance:DTE, Consumers Energy among worst utilities in US for blackout durations
To accomplish this, DTE will invest $9 billion over five years, accelerating an existing years-old effort, which includes trimming trees, updating existing infrastructure, rebuilding significant portions of the grid and speeding up the transition to a smart grid.
“What this plan is designed to do is to take what we call ‘trouble and storm outages’ out of the system,” Lauer said. “Well, if you can take ‘trouble and storm outages’ out of the system, what you do is you actually drive costs down.”
As part of this $9 billion plan, DTE also said it will:
- Trim more than 30,000 miles of trees throughout its service territory.
- Update more than 10,000 miles of existing infrastructure.
- Rebuild some of the oldest sections of its grid to increase capacity and reliability. That includes new substations in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Port Huron, Almont Township, Lenox Township, Van Buren Township, Plymouth Township and Lapeer. Where it makes sense, DTE said overhead equipment will be relocated underground. For example, DTE will soon begin work in the Davison and Buffalo-Charles neighborhoods in Detroit as part of a pilot program to bury 5 miles of power lines underground.
- Fully automate the grid within five years by installing 10,000 smart devices, which it says allow for faster identification of damaged areas and rerouting of service for most customers during an outage.
Jackson-based Consumers Energy also recently announced the details of its distribution grid plan. It also plans to invest about $9 billion over a five-year time period and will continue to trim trees, replace outdated electric poles and bury more power lines underground, the utility said.
More details on Consumers’ plan:Consumers Energy unveils plan to cut power outage durations, frequency
A distribution grid plan is filed every two years with the MPSC and lays out how the utility will improve reliability and resiliency for its customers in the future, Lauer said. The plan lays out the long-term path for how DTE wants to invest in the grid, creating what Lauer describes as a “framing document” for discussions the utility will have with the MPSC moving forward.
The distribution grid plan doesn’t need to be approved by the MPSC, he said, but the commission will later need to approve or deny the individual investments DTE plans to make as part of its rate increase requests.
MPSC spokesman Matt Helms declined to comment on the DTE distribution grid plan because “it’s part of an active case before the commission.”
Lauer said a large piece of the $9 billion needed is already embedded in customer rates and DTE will reallocate it to efforts that will improve reliability and resiliency, but there will be some rate pressures in the future as the utility continues to invest in the grid, he said.
Separately, DTE filed a request for a rate increase of about $620 million with the MPSC in February. Lauer said DTE is actively working to come to a settlement with the 31 parties involved and hopes to do that by mid-October.
Contact Adrienne Roberts: [email protected].