For the past few weeks, crews from N.G. Gilbert Company have caused some minor traffic backups and strained necks as residents have looked up to see what they were working on. They are upgrading the local power grid for DTE Energy, the provider of Saline’s electrical service.
According to City Superintendent Gary Roubal, DTE Energy has a franchise agreement through the Saline City Council that grants them the rights to own and maintain the city’s power lines. Roubal said the work has generated few complaints except that some neighbors were concerned that poles deposited on their lawn for later deployment might kill their grass.
Saline Public works director, Jeff Fordice agrees that N.G. Gilbert crews are doing their work with minimal disruption.
“They are doing a good job with traffic control and keeping clean worksites,” Fordice said.
The work is part of a multi-year regional project by DTE to upgrade their power grid over and above routine maintenance. It is intended to increase reliability and reduce outage times.
“We typically spend about $600 million a year on electric system reliability work,” said DTE spokesperson Scott Simons. “And over the next five to seven years we’ll be spending an additional $50 million per year. In total we’re spending about $2.5 million in Saline.”
The local grid is divided into circuits, each serving a particular collection of customers. DTE has identified six circuits, serving a total of 8,000 customers that may have reliability issues. These are the ones that are being upgraded.
The new poles are taller, lifting the lines higher above the trees. Also, in locations like South Ann Arbor Street, the lines were moved closer to the road to avoid tree entanglement. Simons said 2/3 of power outages that occur in storms are caused by trees.
The poles that are being replaced have been in place at least 50 years and perhaps decades more. They have a code that indicates the date of erection.
A foreman at one of the job sites described the work as “reconductoring.” This means replacing older power lines with new ones.
The older copper wires are being replace with 1/0 aluminum or 636 steel reinforced aluminum wires. Aluminum, a good conductor, is much cheaper than copper these days.
The workers are manipulating distribution circuits carrying 13,200 volts of electricity. They wear gloves and rubber sleeves that protect them against up to 20,000 volts. Still, it is very dangerous work.
In addition to new poles and wires, the workers are installing equipment to help locate faults more quickly, Simons said. Also, they are increasing “jumpering capacity,” which enables them to transfer loads to other circuits when one circuit fails.
Simons said that the project will continue through the summer. Some of the work is still in the design phase. When it is completed, Saline should have more reliable electrical service.