Many people don’t pay much attention to the 800-pound devices mounted 25 feet high on our electric poles, but they play a major role in Michigan’s electric reliability future.

These automatic transfer reclosers (ATRs) are just one of the cutting-edge reliability technologies we are implementing across Michigan. When outages occur, the 350 ATRs deenergize impacted electric lines and transfer power automatically, reducing outages and their impacts to customers.

Investing in emergent technology, including $22 million budgeted annually for ATRs, will not only reduce outages for our customers, it will also help prepare our grid to lead Michigan’s clean energy transformation.

It’s all part of a larger $5.4 billion electric reliability plan, a five-year blueprint for serving Michigan’s grid today while preparing for future challenges. The plan, which entails infrastructure upgrades, forestry management and grid modernization, projects a 15% improvement in reliability performance.

“These ATRs help isolate outages to impacted areas,” said Josh Martin of the Grid Modernization Department. Martin is now tasked with finding the best areas in Michigan to deploy ATRs.

“It helps customers who may have seen outages go on for hours to being without power for only minutes or even seconds,” said Martin. “ATRs are a big part of our distribution automation system that improve our customer experience.”

In August 2021, ATRs and the rest of the distribution automation system were put to the test during a severe windstorm in West Michigan.

In Barry County, wind gusts knocked several trees into power lines and 1,670 Prairieville customers lost power. The ATRs detected the trees on the power lines and went to work immediately, de-energizing the impacted spots to boost safety and protect the lines while restoring as many customers as possible automatically. The ATRs are programmed to detect power loss and follow predetermined actions to help reroute power in another direction.

The ATRs communicated with Martin’s team and limited outage impacts, restoring power to 962 customers within just a couple of minutes, Martin said.

“This is a perfect example of ATRs and grid modernization working together to avoid a larger outage,” Martin said. “While we’re able to dramatically lower the number of customers who lose power, some customers closest to the interruption point will still have an outage. While it’s inconvenient, the cutting of power does help keep those customers safe from electrical current until we can make necessary repairs.”

Even with advances in technology, traditional tree trimming is most effective in preventing power outages and improving system reliability. Over the next five years, we plan to reinvest $560 million to keep our distribution lines clear.

With tree trimming, innovative technology like ATRs and replacing about 1,000 miles of line on our system annually, we will dramatically reduce long-term outages and support our Clean Energy Plan, which will help us achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

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