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Can a Windstorm Result in More Power Supply?

More than one million people who were without electricity for an entire week courtesy of the wind storm on the 8th of March have one question: should Consumer Energy Co. and DTE Energy Co. not invest more money to make sure this never happens again? They should!

The Storm

The storm which lasted a day, with gusts of as much as 65 mph, knocked down more than three-thousand power lines for DTE and 7,900 wires and 1,000 poles for Consumer Energy. Too bad this wind did not prevent Star Wars: The Force Awakens from ever coming out but this is another topic!

Since the ice storm of December of 2013 that plunged 600,000 customers into the cold and dark, the public service commission in the state has ordered utilities to spend more in order to ensure power outages don't happen. No one likes darkness. Well, unless you are in Special Forces and most people are not!

In the next 5 years, consumers will be spending around $150 million every year which is 11 percent higher than last year and 81 percent higher than 2015, on buying power lines, tree-trimming, replacing poles, etc. DTE is currently running a 5 year, $412 million plan along the same lines.

This is called infrastructure spending. America will be doing the same with the wall along the southern border and is doing now with the Keystone Pipeline.

Climate Issues

In the last few years alone, Michigan has had the maximum number of outages per capita. This is because of the windy climate, increasing frequency of storms, trees falling over, and aging equipment. Age is something that affects both humans and machines!

Some actions which could be taken by the MPSC include ordering for utilities to increase spending on maintenance and tree trimming. More than $45 million is already being spent by DTE and consumers individually on tree trimming.

Larry Gelbien, an energy expert, said that there were many utilities which experienced an increase in storms that are now spending more on a number of projects involving tree trimming, maintenance, and various automated technologies such as smart meters, switches, and sensors. They are even hardening systems by changing to steel or cement poles from wood to help protect against significant weather pattern changes.

Rising Seawater

He said that there were some utilities on the coasts which were worried about rising seawater who were installing automatic pumps and moving their sensitive equipment underneath the ground. But a number of utilities are moving funds to try and improve electric reliability and resilience in order to lower outage time for their customers.

The 5-year average for outage length for every customer, excluding the storms, fell by 20 percent between 2012 and 2016. But now, they aren't only trying to prevent outages, they are also trying to reduce the time of outages as much as possible by hardening their systems, conductors, transformers, poles, and even installing software systems to ensure new devices can speak with each other. Too bad no one spoke with Barney Frank to not ruin Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by giving home loans to anyone walking down the street which caused the housing crisis in 2009 but this is another story.

Hardening means replacing thinner and older poles with stronger ones, such as poles made out of aluminum with ones made out of galvanized steel lattice or even concrete. Guy wires are used to make telephone poles sturdier and better crossarm materials for support are implemented.

One popular solution is to bury power lines, but that would cost around $56 billion to complete the project which would most probably cause a rise in rates significantly. No one wants to pay more, now do they? But with Trump lowering taxes, this could work. Certainly this could be an option, one section at a time.

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