Amid backlash over outages, DTE to spend $70 million to trim trees

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Facing criticism over widespread power outages caused by storms this summer, DTE Energy said Wednesday it will invest $70 million to remove trees and trim branches away from power lines.

The move comes after DTE Energy's service area experienced several weather-related outages this summer: five tornadoes and eight storms with wind gusts of 39 to 74 miles per hour. As a result, high winds and moisture in the ground uproot trees that pull down poles and wires.

“We tripled our tree trimming effort and doubled our infrastructure upgrades several years ago when we began to see more severe weather patterns,"  DTE President and CEO Jerry Norcia said in a release Wednesday. "But the extreme weather we experienced this summer — nine hard hitting, severe storms in nine weeks — is something we have never experienced. That’s why we made the decision to invest even more now, directing an additional $70 million into tree trimming to combat the large and recurring outages that have been so challenging for our customers."

The utility will add to its annual $190 million tree trimming program. The plan was filed Tuesday with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The additional funding will not impact customers' bills, the utility said.  

According to DTE Energy, trees are largely responsible for power outages during extreme high wind weather events. Following a storm Aug. 11, DTE crews replaced 450 broken poles. More than 500,000 customers lost power. 

Outages are often caused by major weather events like storms and wildfires. An abundance of trees, estimated to be 14 billion in Michigan, are blamed for mass outages like the Aug. 11 storm.

Since the storms hit, Michigan officials, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, have called on utilities in the state to reassess how they're protecting the electric grid. The Michigan League of Conservation Voters called for the state Public Service Commission and the Legislature to conduct oversight hearings on "the failures by DTE and Consumers Energy to prevent outages and reconnect customers following summer storms."

The utility estimates that areas with completed tree trimming experience an average 60% fewer outages.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN