Our co-workers work hard. They go above and beyond to keep service reliable, our customers safe, sites maintained and co-workers feeling cared for. But a few might look a bit different than you would expect. Meet everyone’s favorite team members – the animals of Consumers Energy.
Ah, there are so many puns and we’ve probably “ewes”ed them all. Or not.
Believe it or not, sheep are starting to play an important role in our solar future. One of the great things about renewable energy is the land used is often multi-purpose. Some of the best land for solar in Michigan is farmland – and we’re actively looking for acres that are not as viable for growing.
On these parcels of land, production of energy is a better bet than corn, soybeans and fruits. However, just because the land isn’t the best for crops doesn’t mean it doesn’t get overgrown. That’s where sheep come in.
Easy to transport, effective at ground vegetation management and less destructive than goats, sheep are easy to integrate with solar sites and help allow farmland to continue serving its original purpose in a new way. Currently, we work with Michigan farmers to bring in sheep at our existing solar sites at Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University. If successful, farmers who lease land to us for solar could have the option of hosting their own herds – a true win-win for Michigan.
The Power of Poop
Sometimes you know you’re near a farm without even seeing it. You know what we mean. And waste is just waste, right? Not if you’re the innovative minds who’ve figured out how to use it to make electricity! The agricultural community has been an important partner since we first ran electricity to farms via the Mason-Dansville line in 1927. Nearly 100 years later, we’re more connected than ever.
While we’re early in this journey, as the 6th largest milk producer in the nation there is a lot of potential. We started a Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) pilot with Swisslane Farms in 2022 to learn more about what it takes to leverage this readily available, natural fuel source to power Michigan. When construction of the biodigesters is completed, the Kent County Centennial Farm could heat nearly 1,000 homes.
Not only could this add more energy options to our system, it also helps capture methane from cows – a greenhouse gas (GHG) emission believed to cause global warming.
A Pet with a Purpose
In January 2020, we welcomed Archer to the Consumers Energy family as our Canine Care Companion. Tasked with providing joy, comfort and an occasional dusting of corgi glitter, the one-year-old pup was deemed the perfect fit for the program. He quickly became a well-known figure at the headquarters in Jackson with weekly invitations to team meetings, personal interactions for tough days and even popping up in employee trainings.
Little did we know how important his role would be for co-workers just two months later. When the world was stopped in its tracks with the pandemic, Archer remained a symbol of well-being with his own internal blog and virtual meeting appearances. Three years later, he’s back in person with the rest of his co-workers and more popular than ever.
Archer is not a service animal – in fact, he’s the pet of two employees – but his calm yet happy demeanor, small size, obedient nature and love of people gave him the opportunity to brighten hallways throughout the state once a week. He makes sure to greet every person who says hi with a seat at their feet and a fist bump, if asked. When not making the rounds, he sits quietly in his own bed under the desk of his proud owner.
While his primary job is to spread happiness, he also provides emotional support during hard times. He joined Consumers Energy volunteers at Spartan Sunday on February 19, 2023, welcoming students back to campus following the tragic shooting the week before. Sitting quietly on a table, he gently accepted hugs, pets and even a few tears as people filed by. He has an intuition for when someone is having a bad day and leans into their hugs extra hard.
Now almost 5, Archer has spent much of his life caring for people – a job he takes very seriously. Because of this, it’s no wonder he has become a favorite co-worker of many at Consumers Energy. The rest just haven’t met him yet.
Animals of Another Kind
Spot the ‘dog’ joined the Consumers Energy team in fall 2021 as a substation inspector. Created by the team at Boston Dynamics specifically for energy companies, ‘animal’ may be a stretch but we’re still proud of the role this robot plays.
Spot trots out into substations to find potential faults before any human could. Built specifically for this work, Spot helps keep our co-workers safe and electric service more reliable.
Spot autonomously navigates a substation using a programmed schedule to inspect critical equipment with infrared/thermal technology. By identifying risk of failure earlier than ever, we can fix problems before they happen.
Just like most pets after an active day, Spot automatically returns to a doghouse once the job is completed to re-charge and send results to our electric control center to evaluate.
Fun fact: Spot is really the only animal who can safely run free in a substation. That’s why we also have installed protective barriers around these sites to deter other critters from coming in to keep your electricity on. If you see Spot at work at a substation near you, be sure to follow posted signs and never enter a substation.
Spot isn’t the only animal on staff that doesn’t meet the “fuzzy and breathing” criteria. Smart pigs have been inspecting natural gas pipelines for decades – providing important safety and reliability insights without any digging.
These ‘pigs’ use sensor technology to identify areas in underground pipes that could impact service. We place it into an existing opening in the pipeline where it then travels and scans approximately 25 to 35-mile-long segments at a time. This work allows us to narrow in on smaller work zones, helping keep our neighbors safe, their natural gas service reliable and disruptions to their daily lives minimal.
Whether they have legs and fur or run off a battery, you can count on the ‘animals’ of Consumers Energy! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or here at Force4Michigan.com for the most up-to-date information on these cool creatures.