BELDING, Mich. (WOOD) — Chuck Loper has some advice for anyone moving into his rural neighborhood south of Belding.
“First thing you do is buy a generator if you live out on this road,” he said.
Trees came down as ice formed last week, bringing the power lines behind Loper’s home down with them. His home was without power for about a day.
He and his neighbors have come to expect it, but that doesn’t make it easier to deal with.
“…It depends on the weather, but when the weather hits, we usually lose (power) a lot,
Loper said. “You could be out for days and you never get a break. They don’t discount you. You get our power back and it’s like you never lost your power.”
There is what seems like an easy solution: Put the lines underground.
“I love that idea!” Loper said. “I love that idea. Because that would eliminate a lot, especially out there because you’ve got so many bad trees.”
For years, many have asked why Consumers Energy doesn’t simply bury power lines to protect them from wind, snow and ice. And for years, the answer has been that it’s too expensive. But now, the utility is changing its tune.
“Especially in areas that are rural, with lots of trees and many, many miles of line that would be at risk from trees during extreme winter ice storms,” Greg Salisbury, Consumers Energy’s vice president of electric distribution engineering, said.
Salisbury said burying a line costs five to six times more than putting it in the air on a pole. But in rural areas, where tree trimming and other maintenance is a challenge, the initial investment may be worth it. A pilot program will test that out.
“What we’re looking at is strategically choosing areas where the challenge of managing trees is going to be so significant as to change that balance of upfront costs versus lifetime maintenance,” Salisbury said.
Some of the first areas to have lines buried will be along the lakeshore in West Michigan. But don’t look for lines in the cities or suburbs to be buried.
Consumers says it has launched a five-year, $5 billion infrastructure investment plan that includes inspecting half of its 50,000 miles of lines and trimming 7,000 miles of trees to reduce overall outages. The Jackson-based utility hopes burying lines in rural areas will add to those reductions.
“There’s a way to do this with much smaller numbers that will have a very big impact if it’s applied surgically,” Salisbury said.
The Michigan Public Service Commission has scheduled town hall meetings to hear from people who were without power for days after February’s ice storms and talk about how the panel is working to improve the grid’s resiliency. Two in-person meetings will be held in Jackson and Dearborn on March 20. A virtual meeting will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on March 21. You can also submit comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to:
Michigan Public Service Commission
P.O. Box 30221
Lansing, MI 48909