Our mechanics are replacing windshield wipers and tires in our garages across the state, placing ice scrapers in company vehicles and prepping and installing snowplows on many of our trucks.
Winter is coming. And we are preparing our fleet for the many unexpected rigors Mother Nature brings this time of year. Slippery conditions and whiteouts are the leading cause of slowing us down in the winter months – which sometimes extends longer than any of us would like. That combined with ice on power lines can have a dramatic impact on our ability to provide you with reliable energy.
That’s why behind the scenes we’ve been preparing for winter since the last one ended, said Scott McPhail, storm restoration manager. That includes embracing emergent technology and maintaining and upgrading equipment at our disposal. Also, our continued commitment to clearing trees, making it less likely they crash into our lines in the months ahead.
“Ice is something I am always worried about,” said McPhail. “Freezing rain systems are very hard to predict. A half a degree to one degree can shift it from rain to snow. I would much rather deal with a nice snowfall of 12 inches than an inch of freezing rain. That could lead to a catastrophic event for us.”
Preventative maintenance of the 7,733 units of fleet equipment, which includes vehicles, bucket trucks, trailers, air compressors, trenching machines, mini excavators and backhoes is key to getting ready for the winter months.
Agility is instrumental to getting things in order once the calendar flips to Dec. 21, the first day of winter, he added.
“Twice a year we inspect our equipment and our bucket trucks we inspect every 60 days,” said Greg Knaack Director of Fleet Operations, which has nearly 150 employees, including 112 mechanics. “As a service organization, it’s imperative that we make the repairs as quickly as possible or put a similar, spare vehicle in its place. Our goal is to maximize the time that our field workers can spend out in the field, especially during major storms.”
He points to the 96 percent rate of vehicles in working order to handle whatever comes their way – wind, rain, sleet or snow.
“And that figure is higher for all of our equipment,” said Knaack. “That’s because of the proactive steps we take throughout the year to make sure everything is maintained. We take our mission of providing safe, reliable and affordable service seriously every day we report to work.”
Emergent technology is another factor that will get us through winter.
Automatic transfer reclosers (ATRs) is one of the cutting-edge reliability technologies we are implementing across the areas that we serve.
When outages occur, the 424 ATRs deenergize impacted electric lines and transfer power automatically to lines not impacted by the outage, which means customers who could’ve been impacted for hours or even days are now down to only a couple of minutes.
“As of October, we have saved our customers from over 12 million outage minutes thanks to ATRs,” said Josh Martin of the Grid Modernization Department, adding they would likely add install more ATRs in the future. “They have been instrumental in storms this year, and we look forward to them being a big part of our reliability future.”
In total this year, ATRs have saved over 42,000 customer outages – of that figure 4600 were businesses — from losing power this year.
Another addition to our grid: line sensors. These sensors map where circuits are down so our crews are no longer required to manually check power lines to find the problem. Instead, they can focus their time and energy on fixing the problems, resulting in customers having their power restored quicker.
Since fallen trees or broken limbs are the leading cause of outages in Michigan – even with advances in technology – traditional tree trimming is most effective in preventing power outages and improving system reliability. Over the next five years, we plan to reinvest $560 million to keep our distribution lines clear.
“With tree trimming, innovative technology like ATRs, replacing about 1,000 miles of line on our system annually and maintaining our equipment, we have a robust reliability plan in place designed to keep homes and businesses running, limiting outages to be as infrequent and short as possible, no matter what Mother Nature throws at us this winter,’ said McPhail.
To learn more, visit ConsumersEnergy.com/change