DTE Energy plans to nearly double the pace of natural gas system upgrades in the years ahead, with an increased focus on West Michigan.

Under the Gas Renewal Program (GRP), 154 miles of steel and cast-iron gas main pipeline will be upgraded to long-lasting, polyethylene this year, with plans to boost that to 206 miles annually by 2020. The program also includes upgrading service lines to polyethylene and moving inside gas meters to an exterior location.

“We’re currently on a 30-year pace to complete the upgrades, but we are reducing that to 18 years,” said Renee Tomina, executive director, Gas Operations. “We want to make sure that we continue to provide our customers with the safest, most reliable service available.”

While DTE has been increasing the program in Southeast Michigan, most of the added work over the years ahead will be in West Michigan, where 1,000 miles of main will be upgraded.

“We’re replacing 25 miles of main this year in West Michigan, with plans to do 35 miles next year and 50 miles in 2020,” explained Tomina. “The majority of that construction will be in Muskegon and Grand Rapids, with a little in Northern Michigan.”

In areas where pipelines have already been upgraded, there is a significant reduction in leaks, which equates to reduced methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is inherent in natural gas. Through DTE’s ongoing Gas Renewal Program and other efforts, the company expects to reduce methane emissions from its natural gas distribution system more than 80 percent by 2040.  

DTE determines where to focus its GRP based on several factors, including age of infrastructure, composition of pipe (steel, cast iron), leak history and proximity to areas of dense population.  

Another consideration is construction work scheduled by municipalities.

“If they are going to resurface roads or do sewer work, we will try to pull ahead our work, so it can be done right before or after their project,” Tomina said. “That way, it’s less disruptive to customers, as opposed to coming back months later and digging things up again. One of our objectives this year is to better coordinate construction with municipalities, and I think we’re doing that.”

To help improve customer satisfaction this year, DTE has doubled the number of vendors who restore landscaping and concrete, established a customer-accessible SharePoint site to more quickly address sprinkler damage, and completed all restoration carried over from late last year by the target date of June 30.

“We also made strides in shrinking some of the time between construction phases, but we still have opportunities to improve,” noted Tomina. “This work is invasive, takes time to complete and involves a lot of coordination and communication. Regardless, we are committed to delivering high levels of customer satisfaction.”