July 18, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Detroit schools, DIA begin transition to DTE Energy for electricity

Detroit— After a record number of school days were lost to power outages this year, officials with Detroit Public Schools are embracing a move off the Detroit Public Lighting grid.

As of July 1, DTE Energy replaced the city’s public lighting department as the official provider of electricity to more than 115 retail customers at about 1,400 locations across the city.

Customers include DPS, schools in the Education Achievement Authority, Wayne State University and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The scheduled move was part of a plan by Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s office to have the department exit the electricity business by migrating customers and its 31 substations to DTE over a five-year period.

“They all have DTE leaders and are DTE customers. We are out of the business of providing power,” Gary Brown, chief operating officer for the city of Detroit, said.

Customers should notice savings in their monthly bills, Brown said, because DTE will not have a cost recovery fee to collect like DPL did.

Customers impacted are mostly downtown and in Midtown, Brown said, and included charter schools and Wayne County Community College campuses.

The switchover, which was made because of disinvestment in the system in the last 20 years, was good news to school leaders at DPS.

The actual number of days missed due to power outages for the 2013-14 school year was 259 at DPS across the district’s 100 schools. In the 2012-13 school year, DPS had 39 power outages.

“We want to be off the grid as soon as possible,” DPS spokesman Steve Wasko said.

Some schools such as Emerson and Mason lost 12 days of instructional time, while Edison and Greenfield Union lost 10. Four schools lost eight days each. The district has extended the school year for those schools, adding up to two weeks of school for students.

A cost savings estimate for DPS was not immediately available.

An official with the EAA said the cost savings from the switchover has not been officially calculated but the district is estimating about a $500,000 savings in electric costs from next school year. EAA schools were closed on 10 days due to power outages.

“This will result in more funds back into the classroom for instruction.” EAA spokesman Mario Morrow said.

A 14-year-old EAA student died in November after he was shocked by a downed live wire. The teen had touched the wire in a vacant lot as he tried to duck underneath it as he and three friends were walking home from Burns Elementary-Middle School on Detroit's west side. School had been canceled because of a power outage.

“EAA is happy to partner with our community stakeholders such as DTE, the Detroit Police and Fire Departments to provide the best all-around safety net for our families,” Morrow said.

Brown said customers should expect fewer disruptions as the change occurs but until customers are completely switched off the system, inconsistent service remains possible.

“It will get better every month. They (DTE) have put redundancies into the system to make it better,” Brown said.

In May, the Michigan Public Service Commission approved a process and guidelines for how to make the transition in Detroit to having DTE Energy supply electricity to residents.