If the first quarter is any indication of what Mother Nature has up her sleeve for 2017, batten down the hatches friends.

Four major weather events impacted tens-of-thousands of our members over the three-month period. Three tornadoes touched down in a late February storm, and one short week later, ferocious windstorms resulted in the largest combined statewide power outage event in Michigan history, according to Gov. Rick Snyder.

I engaged with several members during our 2017 district meetings about these unusual weather circumstances, and the question that came up without fail was, “what if you’d never implemented the line clearance program?” And my reaction, without fail: “I can’t even imagine how much worse it would have been.”

We’ve taken a strategic and aggressive approach to right-of-way maintenance over the last 15 years, and the results show. Not only have we prevented many trees and branches from ever touching a line, but we’ve also created better access in the easement for crews to restore power when something does happen.

Our largely overhead system will never be entirely protected from the elements of nature, equipment failure, and human interference (think chainsaw-wielding weekend warriors or car-pole accidents), but we’re taking yet another step this summer to better manage your reliability.

We’ve talked for months about our investment in a robust, fiber communications infrastructure. It makes our smart grid ready for specific applications that will enhance our efforts to improve your service experience.

Up first: Distribution Automation (DA). As we invest in proactive reliability measures, DA represents a huge leap in marrying our grid with specific applications that will allow for real-time monitoring and intelligent control.

In the simplest of terms, DA allows individual devices to sense the operating conditions of the surrounding grid and make adjustments to improve power flow and optimize performance. It provides early detection of equipment that might not be working properly, allowing us to address issues before your service fails.

But it gets event better. These intelligent devices also identify when an outage occurs, isolate the issue, and reroute power to minimize the overall impact. They also alert the crew to the approximate location and cause of the fault, which should take some of the time and guesswork out of restoration efforts. A line outage that impacts 200 members today may be minimized to just a handful of customers in the future.

First-in-class innovations and solutions; it’s what we do to enhance your rural experience.