Jessica Mathews /

With extreme severe weather events happening more frequently, Consumers Energy has announced plans to invest $100 million in upgrades to reduce both the number and length of power outages.

The energy provider will be making significant upgrades to its high voltage distribution (HVD) system in an effort to make the power grid more reliable for electric customers. The 2022 investment represents a continued focus on increasing investment in the HVD system – defined as the “backbone of the power grid”.

A large part of the planned investment in the HVD system in 2022 is on HVD lines, and upgrades will impact approximately 130,000 customers across the state.

Consumers Energy Media Spokesman Josh Paciorek told WHMI it is not lost on them that power outages are frustrating. He says “their number one job is to keep the lights on for folks and when those lights don’t come on, they’re frustrated”. Paciorek said that’s why they’re taking proactive steps ahead of the storm season to build a more reliable and resilient power grid in a state that has been seeing more and more severe weather over the past number of years.

Paciorek said the challenge over the last number of years, dating back to 2020 or even last weekend in Gaylord with the tornado, they’re seeing these once in 100-year weather events happening more frequently. He says the high wind storms and thunderstorms with 70-80 mph wind gusts are the kind of storms that can take a real toll on the power grid. In order to make it more reliable, Paciorek says they need to upgrade and make investments so the grid is more resilient in the face of the severe weather being experienced.

Planned work includes rebuilding nearly 40 miles of HVD lines, rehabilitating over 64 miles of HVD line pole-top equipment, replacing 750 poles, and installing new technology that will enable Consumers Energy to more quickly and effectively isolate and restore outages.

This year’s HVD upgrades are said to be part of Consumers Energy’s larger efforts to build a more reliable and resilient energy grid through its five-year, $5.4 billion Electric Reliability Plan. That plan is described as a blueprint for serving Michigan today and innovating to meet the challenges of the coming decades.

The utility says investments such as trimming trees, replacing poles and wires and upgrading substations and key equipment are top priorities - especially with climate change causing more frequent and severe weather events.

Consumers Energy has also increased investment in forestry by more than 60% since 2018 as trees are the number one cause of power outages, and the plan includes a significant increase in spending — more than $500 million over five years — to keep distribution lines clear.

Through the reliability plan, Consumers Energy plans to reduce the average length of time that customers are without power by nearly 15% from 2020 to 2025.