DTE talks outages, reliability with Farmington Hills officials

From 2017 to mid-2019, Farmington Hills DTE customers experienced an average of one outage every year – some lost power five or six times, others not at all.

But the average amount of time spent out of service was between eight and nine hours, which is well above the electric company’s target.

Regional manager Mike Palchesko, engineering manager Mike Witkowski, and tree trimming operations manager Shannon Palmer on Monday talked with Hills city council members about providing service to DTE’s 50,000 local customers. Company officials acknowledged service problems, and explained what DTE is doing to address them.

Witkowski said major work planned in 2020 includes a substation at 12 Mile and Drake Roads, which caught fire in 2016. The company rigged a work-around that got customers back online, but “the plan is to get it back to normal in 2020.”

DTE has also created a new team of engineers and linemen to work specifically in areas with “localized reliability issues,” Witkowski said. That includes Inkster Road between 10 and 11 Mile Roads, and 11 Mile and Orchard Lake Roads. Council member Ken Massey said one area along Inkster has had six outages in a short period of time.

Tree trimming

Witkowski said that 65-75 percent of outages are caused by trees. Palmer explained that the Public Service Commission controls DTE’s spending on tree trimming, and this year, the program received full funding for the next three years.

“We understand that we are not providing the reliability our customers need and deserve,” she said.

The company aims for a five-year cycle of trimming and recently made changes to the way it trims trees, providing better clearances and more tree removals, Palmer said. No trees are removed without signed permission from the homeowner.

Palmer said the multi-phase process starts with notifying customers by phone and mail that DTE will be coming through. A team then goes door-to-door in neighborhoods evaluating individual properties.

The 2020 tree-trimming schedule in Farmington Hills will focus on areas around high transmission lines, Palmer said. Neighborhoods, including those along Inkster that have been hard hit, will get attention in 2021.