With warmer winters & more ice storms, what's the future of Michigan's electric infrastructure?

Posted at 11:31 AM, Mar 20, 2023

Monday marks the start of Severe Weather Awareness Week in Michigan, a week dedicated to starting a conversation about our state's emergency preparedness.

It's a timely conversation with multiple severe weather events taking place since 2023 began, leaving hundreds of thousands of Michiganders without power and creating dangerous situations for so many.

With those outages, many would like to see changes in our state's infrastructure, so we talked with residents and with DTE Energy about the changes they plan on making.

"I still have a form of PTSD about this when the lights flicker. I’m like, 'Is this power going out again?'" Kristi Kruger, who lives in Southgate, said.

Kruger and her boyfriend lost power for about six days after the ice storm on Feb. 22.

"When the second, lighter ice storm came, all of my neighbors started our group text saying, 'Oh my God, please not again, not again. We don’t want the power to go out again,'" she said.

University of Michigan climate scientists say that as Michigan winters get warmer, we are likely to see more frequent ice storms.

Knowing this, Kruger said she bought a generator for the inevitable next storm, but she knows that won't be enough. She'd like to see changes from DTE, including more cables buried underground.

I asked Ryan Stowe, the vice president of distribution operations at DTE Energy, if burying more cables is a priority on their to-do list.

"Well first, about 30% of our system is underground right now. So our real challenge is, is there a way we can find cost-effective ways to move the existing overhead to underground?" he said.

Stowe said there are also four other priorities for DTE in the immediate future.

"First is trimming trees. In this recent ice storm, most or all of those outages are really being driven by trees," he said

Second, Stowe said, is rebuilding some older sections of the grid so it's stronger when trees do interact with it. Third is maintaining their current equipment.

"Finally, our technology upgrades. We’ve recently opened our state-of-the-art operation center we’re in the process of launching new technology control systems," he said.

U.S. annual precipitation increased 4% between 1901 and 201, but the Great Lakes region saw an almost 10% increase over that time frame with more of the precipitation coming in unusually large events.

As DTE says, parts of our grid in Michigan are very old, we need to adapt.

"Weather is becoming more and more severe and we need to be equipped to handle it in a 21st century when we should be able to," said Kruger.