Emerson Elementary-Middle School Principal Brenda Carethers gets ready for a new school day to begin.

Detroit schools convert to DTE Energy’s power grid and experience 99 percent fewer school closings

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As a new school year begins, students in Detroit schools can expect to spend more time in their classrooms thanks to DTE Energy’s work to improve energy reliability in their schools. Since November 2014, DTE has converted 55 Detroit schools from the Detroit Public Lighting Department’s (PLD) grid, to DTE’s power grid and performed electrical maintenance on existing systems, bringing reliable power back to numerous other schools. As a result, the number of school closings in Detroit caused by power outages went from 184 in the 2013-2014 school year to only two in the 2015-2016 school year, a 99 percent reduction.

According to the Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD), before the grid conversion project began, severe interruptions in power often closed schools for days and damaged critical equipment. At Emerson Elementary–Middle School, more than 40 computers were destroyed by power failures. Brown outs were also a daily occurrence in some schools, causing lights to flicker and dim, disrupting classrooms and impacting the student’s ability to focus and learn.

“Increased power reliability and reduced power outages have helped create an environment that is more conducive to learning for our students,” said Emile Lauzzana, director of energy and sustainability for Detroit Public Schools Community District. “Overall, teachers and students feel more safe and secure in the building and parents have confidence that when they drop their child off in the morning, they will not be getting a call to come pick their child up again in the middle of the day because of a power failure.”

When PLD customers were officially converted to DTE customers in July 2014, DTE worked with the PLD to focus efforts on responding to power outages in minutes, rather than days. Crews were tasked with trimming trees around the circuits that powered the schools when it was discovered that overgrown vegetation was a significant contributing factor to power failures. DTE also prioritize which schools needed attention first to get them up and running again.
The improvements to Detroit’s schools have been dramatic:

• In 2013-2014, DPSCD alone, which serves 50 percent of Detroit’s students, had 86 days where at least one school was closed due to electrical outages. Overall that year, all Detroit schools – including DPSCD, parochial, private, charter and Education Achievement Authority schools – reported 184 school closings as a result of failed power.
• In 2014-2015, Detroit schools experienced 44 school closings due to power outages.
• In 2015-2016, Detroit schools reported only two school closings caused by power failure.

“DTE’s partnership with the Public Lighting Department and Detroit schools is an example of our commitment to providing reliable, cost-effective service to all of our customers and positively impact the communities where we live and work,” said Robert Richard, senior vice president of DTE Energy’s Major Enterprise Projects. “Our employees take pride in providing exceptional customer service to improve the quality of life and safety for our customers — and their school children.”

The severe reliability challenges in PLD’s electrical system were a result of Detroit’s aging infrastructure and lack of resources. DTE’s work to convert PLD’s existing customers to the DTE grid was part of the city’s “Grand Bargain” and impacts a total of 115 customers and institutions at approximately 600 locations, in addition to about 900 traffic signals. The schools in Detroit were PLD’s primary customers. Other institutions to benefit from the conversion include Cobo Hall, Coleman A. Young International Airport, Detroit Receiving Hospital, Wayne State University, Belle Isle, city government buildings, and more.

“Over the last 50 years, Detroit’s infrastructure had dilapidated to a point where it was not realistic to rebuild it internally,” said Beau Taylor, public sector administrator at PLD. “We looked for a partner to improve PLD’s service while we transitioned our customers to a new grid and DTE Energy was a natural fit. We’ve worked together for the last five years to develop solutions for the delivery of power to our customers and they are very excited to see this transition take place.”

DTE will continue to convert 80 to 90 more schools in Detroit, in addition to other institutions. The conversion project is slated for completion in 2020.