With massive rolling blackouts sweeping through the state of California in recent months, Detroit Today turns its attention to energy infrastructure and grid resilience here in Michigan.
Back in October, on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson, there was a discussion about the state of electrical grids in Michigan and DTE Electric wasn’t able to be a part of that conversation. To get an idea of where the utility stands on a variety of issues including grid resilience, Henderson sits down with DTE COO and President Trevor Lauer.
“Are we prepared? We are prepared. One of the things we spend a lot of time doing is drills to make sure that when major things hit we know exactly how to prepare for our customers. Secondly we need to be transparent with where we are with our customers, we need to do a better job keeping lights on for our customers and we recognize that we have one of the older electric grids in America. Detroit was one of the first cities that really electrified itself a lot of our infrastructure continues to get to end of age,” says Lauer.
Lauer tells Henderson that DTE has been investing in upgrades to the utility’s massive electric system since 2015, but that the size makes it impossible to complete the project overnight. As far as tracking weather patterns and preparing for more extreme weather events due to climate change, Lauer says DTE is recognizing the changing weather and is working to harden their system. Lauer says hardening the system will require using sturdier wires and materials. ”We recognize that it’s happening and now the question is what do we do about it?”
Lauer says trees are the leading cause of outages, which is why the utility is working to keep trees trimmed and communicating the importance of that with their customers.
Turning to renewable energy sources, Henderson and Lauer discuss the latest DTE Integrated Resource Plan and some of the controversy around the data used in the plan and whether or not it is ambitious enough. Lauer says that DTE’s last coal power plant will be closed by 2040 and they are researching and working on technology that can act as a bridge between coal and renewable energy. “Look at actions not words,” says Lauer, who adds that DTE was “the first in the state to build a wind farm” and they “have one of the largest energy efficiency programs…we are moving very aggressively in terms of carbon reduction.” Lauer is aware of the criticism and in response says that for some people “we will never move fast enough.”
Henderson and Lauer also talk about the utility’s shut-offs on customers who cannot afford to pay their bills. ”When we try to intervene up front, then we can make a difference,” says Lauer. He mentions the utility’s low income self sufficiency program, which is “where we set a fixed budget for up to 24 months.”