In early December, the municipal power system in Detroit had a major power outage that was thankfully restored by DTE Energy (DTE), the investor-owned utility that stepped in to lend a helping hand. The Detroit municipal system supplies power to city buildings such as courthouses, hospitals, city offices, and schools, as well as critical local infrastructure such as traffic lights, municipal transportation, and fire departments. Even the Detroit Red Wings hockey practices were disrupted by the power outage. Fortunately, with the help of DTE, the outage was restored within 9 hours and life in Detroit was back to normal.
As news of the municipal power system outage spread, it was initially speculated that this power failure was another glaring example of the lack of ongoing investment in critical infrastructure that occurs when a municipality goes into bankruptcy. The good news is that, as part of the bankruptcy process, Detroit will no longer run the electric system; DTE will begin running the grid over a 4-year transition period. DTE’s deeper pockets will restore the high standards of operation for the Detroit municipal system.
The Beleaguered City
Detroit’s woes have been national news over the past 3 or 4 years, as illustrated by the many pictures of abandoned neighborhoods, factories, churches, and commercial buildings. In fact, Detroit’s mayor, Mike Duggan, said at a news conference on Tuesday, December 2, 2014 that, “Today is another reminder of how much works we still have to do to rebuild this city, and the bankruptcy order doesn’t solve the decades of neglect in our infrastructure.” The mayor’s spokesperson, Robert Warfield, went on to say that the outages were “caused by extreme heat, cable failure, and routine maintenance – all combining causing system overload.” Apparently, a cable feeding a critical substation failed, and the municipal utility tried to reroute the system, triggering a circuit breaker, which caused the blackout.
Spirit of Cooperation
During 2014, I wrote a number of blogs on various utility transmission and distribution issues that arise and the investment required to keep the lights on. These issues are also discussed in detail in Navigant Research reports, including High-Voltage Transmission Systems, Flexible AC Transmission Systems, Synchrophasors and Wide Area Situational Awareness, and Smart Grid: 10 Trends to Watch in 2015. Over the years, I have seen neighboring and even distant utilities step in to help utilities in another state or region restore power after a natural disaster, storm, or power failure. DTE’s work to make sure the lights stay on in Detroit is another great example of the spirit of cooperation within the electric utility industry.