Ferndale Power Outages: Q&A Part 2 With DTE Rep
DTE Energy responds to some of the questions commonly asked by local residents concerned about power outages.
Power outages in Ferndale continue to be a source of concern for many local residents, with the recent storm-related outages fresh on the minds of many plus several pockets of unexplained outages popping up over the past few weeks.
"I am so frustrated with all these random power outages," Patch reader Tamara Lowery recently wrote on Ferndale Patch's Facebook page.
"Yes, even in the middle of a perfectly calm night, Ferndale loses power," wrote reader Brian Clark during an outage over the weekend.
DTE officials recently provided a power update to City Council, detailing recent improvements to the system and their plans to build a new substation in the city to service new growth in the area and improve reliability. City officials are also keeping tabs on the issue.
Q&A with DTE, Part 2
DTE spokesman Scott Simons answered several questions about the recent storm-related outages earlier this month. Here are some follow-up questions about the overall power situation in Ferndale.
We talked about storm-related power outages - what about outages that seem random? What are the possible causes?
Simons: There are a number of reasons for power outages - vehicles hitting power lines, animals getting into electric equipment and, because electric equipment is mechanical by nature, it can simply fail.
Is there anything residents can do to help or decrease the chances their power will go out?
Simons: Residents can make sure the power lines that extend from utility poles to their homes are free from potential tree branch interference. While we trim trees to a 10-foot clearance on pole-to-pole electric lines, it is the homeowner's responsibility to trim around the "service drops" and to make sure they take down dead trees (especially ash) that can fall on power lines during storms or high winds. Because service drops serve only one customer, they are the last to be repaired during a storm restoration.
What is the status of the new substation?
Simons: The substation is still in the formative stages. It won't be operational until at least 2014.
How else is DTE working with the city to get power issues under control?
Simons: We maintain a constant dialogue with the city. City officials know that we have patrolled all circuits in the city to visually inspect power lines, utility poles and the equipment on those poles. We have also done work to improve performance at the substation.
Ferndale seems to get hit with outages more than other areas. Does Ferndale have more trouble than other areas? If so, why?
Simons: No. The recent storms before, during and after July 4 hit south Oakland County particularly hard. Unfortunately, we can't control the weather and Ferndale has an abundance of mature trees. We have found that trees cause two-thirds of the power outages resulting from storms.
How old are the power lines in Ferndale? Does the age have an effect on power outages?
Simons: We spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to maintain and upgrade the electric system in Southeast Michigan. If power lines are determined to need replacing, they are.
Do wires "wear out" over time?
Simons: They can, but we don't allow that to happen.
Residents have reported seeing a lot a frayed and un-encased power wires - does that diminish the wire's capacity to carry power?
Simons: We checked into those reports when we were patrolling circuits and did not see that type of situation.
How often on average does DTE come into Ferndale to trim trees away from power lines, etc.? When was this most recently done?
Simons: We trim trees on a three- to five-year schedule, depending on the type of trees. There are a number of circuits in Ferndale, which is how tree trimming is scheduled -- by the circuit, not the community -- so the most recent tree trimming was within that period of time. In addition, we trim trees during storm restorations to allow repair work. We trimmed trees in Ferndale in 2010 as part of a five-year schedule.
If the majority of the power outage problems are related to trees knocking out power lines, how will the new substation help?
Simons: The new substation will include the construction of new circuits, which will give us more capacity, and flexibility should problems occur. We have the ability to shift electrical load from one circuit to another when problems arise, but during times of peak demand that option is severely limited.
How does urban sprawl effect the ability for DTE to provide service?
Simons: It doesn't. We are in contact with communities and developers when new business and residential projects are proposed, and work with them to ensure that they can be serviced properly. Whether that means new substations, transformers or other equipment, our planning engineers make sure there's proper infrastructure to handle the additional electrical load.
Can you explain why areas with established power systems don't typically get converted to underground power?
Simons: Our rate structure is based on overhead power line construction. Since 1970, all subdivisions have been built with underground power lines, with the developers paying the difference between overhead and underground costs. While we are not opposed to converting overhead lines to underground in older, existing communities, it is unfeasible, both economically and in terms of the overall disruption it would have on communities. Think about the fencing, gardens, trees, yards, swimming pools, garages and streets that would have to be moved or torn up to accommodate the trenching needed to underground the power lines. In addition, the costs would have to be borne by our customers, who have little appetite for further constraints on their budgets. The overall cost to underground is estimated at $25 billion to $30 billion. It should be noted that undergrounding power lines does not prevent power outages. Underground cables fail, and because you can't see them like you can overhead, any problems take longer to repair. In addition, underground power lines are fed by overhead transmission lines, which can be the source of power outages as well.