Investing in Your Service Experience
by Bob Hance on Wednesday, November 3, 2021
Mother Nature had a couple of cranky days in August. Really cranky.
In the wee hours of the morning on Aug. 11, a huge storm hit southwest Michigan, leaving nearly 5,000 customers without power. Round two came later that afternoon, impacting customers in both our southwest and southeast service territories. And just as we were making progress, round three hit southwest Michigan again on the morning of Aug. 12.
Three waves of major storms within a 28-hour period, each bringing damaging winds and impacting customers north-to-south and east-to-west across our entire service area. In total we had 45 broken poles and countless miles of downed power lines. Between our own crews, contract crews, and tree crews we accumulated nearly 3,500 man hours before all service was restored on Aug. 14.
We haven’t seen storms and damage like that for a very long time, and on the heels of these types of events we often engage in the “what could have been” conversation.
When I started my tenure as your CEO almost 20 years ago, my primary charge from the board of directors was to improve system reliability. So, we rolled up our sleeves and developed a plan that included a number of efforts, including a strategic and aggressive line clearance program. We worked our way across our 4000+ miles of line and cut trees to create a 30-foot ground-to-sky clearance around our lines, the standard recommended by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It took many years to reclaim our rights-of-way, and we are now in a proactive maintenance mode that includes annual re-grooming and spraying. Check out our YouTube Channel to see a video about our approach.
Line clearance minimizes the likelihood of trees and animals coming in contact with power lines, and also gives us better access to our distribution system so crews can get equipment in to make repairs. Our rights-of-way were such a mess that it took longer to clear a path to reach a broken pole than it took to change the pole and make related repairs.
While I can only speculate, I have to believe that this type of storm 15 years ago would have left many of our customers without power for a week or more, as was experienced this time around by customers of other utilities. While many of our customers were initially very vocal about our aggressive approach to right-of-way clearing, many more now praise our efforts in the aftermath of events like the August storms. Our investment in line clearance and other reliability measures is an investment in your service experience.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to mention generator safety. Improperly installed generators put you and our lineworkers at risk. Invest in safety by having your generator professionally installed.
We will never be able to eliminate outages altogether. We have a highly complex, largely overhead infrastructure that always will be subject to weather, equipment failure, and other issues. Because we are dependent on transmission providers to bring power to our substations, your service experience is also dependent on the work they do to maintain their systems. I’m glad to say that other electric providers are finally following our lead, making needed investments in infrastructure and right-of-way maintenance to offer a better service experience. Even more importantly, I’m proud that we led the charge nearly two decades ago on behalf of our customers.