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As of: 5:13 PM, 5/17/22

What Causes Power Outages in Michigan?

What Causes Power Outages? (And Consumers Energy $5.4B Plan To Reduce Them)

When you rely on electricity all day every day, losing it can feel like your life has come to a screeching halt as you wait for the power to be restored. But what causes power outages to occur, and why does it sometimes take so long for your power to come back on?

We at Consumers Energy have a vast system of more than 90,000 miles of electric lines and more than 1,200 substations, and thanks to our advancements, our statewide average system reliability in 2021 was 99.95%. We are working to ensure we can always provide Michiganders with that same world-class power performance, but the reality is that even with our advanced systems, things happen, and the power can go out.

We are actively investing in outage prevention systems to provide reliable, clean and affordable electricity to our 1.9 million electric customers. Our Electric Reliability Plan is an investment to upgrade our power system to improve our reliability and resiliency. Read on to learn why the power goes out, how to report it and what our team is doing now to prevent outages in the future.


What is a Power Outage?

A power outage is a disruption within the distribution system that lasts over five minutes in length. Think of it like a garden hose that someone cuts, preventing water from reaching the flower bed. The same is true of power lines. If the system is disrupted, the electricity cannot reach its intended destination.


What Causes Power Outages?

There are a variety of circumstances that can cause power outages ranging from natural causes like weather and animals to equipment failures and scheduled upgrades. In Michigan, fallen trees or broken limbs are the reason behind a power outage around 33% of the time, making them the leading cause for lost electricity.

To help limit the amount of power outages caused by trees, we at Consumers Energy are investing in proactive vegetation management such as tree trimming and brush control. We are also upgrading and modernizing our power grid to give it the ability to “self-heal.” With a smart power grid, we can mitigate the impact of outages, provide quicker recovery times and lower costs for our customers.

Unlike unpredictable outages, such as those caused by animals or weather, some outages are scheduled so our crews can safely make equipment repairs or upgrades for long-term fixes to persistent issues.


How Long Do Power Outages Last?

Most losses of power to homes and businesses are considered momentary, meaning they fall within that five minute window before becoming an “outage.” Our ability to keep many interruptions under five minutes is a result of our investments in sturdier materials and automation technology. For those that exceed five minutes, the duration often depends on the reason behind the outage, the ability to identify the cause and the estimated time for repair and restoration.

To ensure power outages are resolved as quickly as possible, we take the following actions:

  • Work 24/7 so we can monitor and safely restore your electricity service as quickly as possible no matter the time of day.
  • Take preemptive measures such as proactively fixing vulnerabilities, like keeping trees appropriately trimmed, and staging crews when there are changing weather conditions.
  • Install automated technology and communication devices to allow us to see what is happening in real time, such as current and voltage changes and interruption points.
  • Provide an online outage map and text alerts to notify customers of changes in their outage status or estimated time of restoration so they can plan accordingly.

Is it True That Squirrels Can Cause Power Outages?

Yes! Animals, in particular squirrels, can be the culprits behind power outages if they mess with and damage the equipment. In fact, around 8% of outages are caused by wildlife coming into accidental contact with lines and equipment, especially substations. We add full substation animal mitigation, including a gate foundation, polycarbonate barriers and pole wraps to prevent access to equipment and keep squirrels, raccoons and other critters safe.


What Are The Different Types of Power Outages?

  1. Blackout

    A blackout is when power is completely cut in an area, usually due to damaged electrical generation facilities from extreme weather. It’s like the city water supply being shut off. The outage can affect large areas and therefore lead to many people being out of power. Depending on the damage, the outage could last hours or days.

  2. Brownout

    If a blackout is when the city’s water supply has been shut off, then a brownout is when your garden hose has small holes or leaks. Not enough water is getting through to the end to refresh your garden. In a brownout, the electrical power supply or electrical voltage has dropped and there is not enough to fully power the area and lights will likely dim. Some equipment and devices, such as hair dryers or electric ovens, may not work well due to the lower voltage.

  3. Permanent Fault

    This scenario is much simpler and usually leads to the power being restored quickly. A permanent fault happens when a power line fault causes a sudden loss of power. The fault simply needs to be removed or repaired and power can be restored. In the example of our garden hose, this would be like someone turned the faucet off and it just needs to be turned back on.

    Thanks to our recloser equipment that can open and close when triggered to start and stop power flow, we can prevent longer outages, contain the outage to smaller areas and quickly locate where the issue occurred so that our teams can repair the problem.

  4. Rolling Blackouts

    Uncommon in Michigan, rolling blackouts happen when there is an inadequate supply of power and certain areas are scheduled to be shut off, rotating which areas can be supplied with power. They usually occur when there are unstable grids or an infrastructure that was not built to handle extreme capacities. Sticking with the hose metaphor, this is like living in a drought area that has restrictions on water use.


Can Power Outages Affect Cell Phones?

No, cell phones are powered via battery and therefore are unaffected by power outages. However, you will be unable to recharge your device during an outage and should conserve the battery. The ability to make calls depends on the cell towers and if they were affected by the outage.


Can Power Outages be Prevented?

Power outages cannot be completely prevented, but there are ways in which we can reduce the number of occurrences and decrease the length of time it takes to restore power.

At Consumers Energy, we’re investing in Michigan with our five-year, $5.4 billion Electric Distribution Infrastructure Investment Plan (Electric Reliability Plan). The Electric Reliability Plan is a blueprint to upgrade our power system so that we can meet the challenges of today and the future. To improve our reliability and resiliency, we will be investing $1 billion to upgrade the power grid through 2025 in addition to modernizing the grid to lead the clean energy transition.

As part of the Electric Reliability Plan, we are building out our self-healing distribution system with remote technology to act as our eyes and ears on the grid. With thousands of points across thousands of miles of electrical lines, we can detect problems quickly and pinpoint which areas have outages. Then we can reroute the energy to efficiently restore your power.

We’re also investing in proactive asset health and vegetation management, with the help of enhancing our predictive analytics, to erase potential threats and mitigate outages. With 30% of all power outages being caused by trees, we’ve doubled our investment on trimming trees near our power lines, to keep the lines clear and power flowing to your home.


How Do You Report Power Outages?

The easiest way to report an outage is to use our online Report your Outage tool. You can also call us at 800-477-5050 to report your power outage. When you call you can choose to use our automated system or speak to a Customer Service Representative. Please be prepared to provide the specific address or location of the outage so our repair crew can get there as quickly as possible.

If you see a downed wire, please call 9-1-1 and then call us at 800-477-5050. Stay safe: never approach a downed wire, including anything it touches like water, trees, fences or vehicles – you should always assume any power line is live and dangerous.


How Do You Check Power Outages In Your Area?

The Consumers Energy outage map is being continuously updated to keep track of outages across the states and their status as our team is sent out to restore power.

We understand the frustration that is caused by power outages (it impacts our homes, too!) and are investing in processes for quicker re-installment times and methods for limiting outages from occurring in the first place.

If you have any other questions about power outages in Michigan and our plan to reduce them, check out our other resources here.