More than 864,000 Michigan households were left without power last week after multiple rounds of severe windstorms rolled through the state. Gusts of up to 104 mph leveled hundreds of trees and launched trampolines and other debris into the branches of those left standing.
MECA Safety Director, Joe McElroy, was stranded at a Safety Summit conference in Florida when the calls for mutual aid started rolling in early Wednesday morning, Aug. 11.
“I tried getting on a standby flight back home but ended up managing the storm from the airport and my hotel room,” he recalls. “Thankfully, we’ve all gotten pretty good at working remotely over the past year, so it was pretty seamless.”
McElroy described the mutual aid event as one of the most challenging in his career.
“We experienced five back-to-back windstorms in a short, three-day period,” he explains. “We had to deploy three waves of mutual aid crews to help get things under control.”
Altogether, three utilities requested help, including Great Lakes Energy, Cherryland Electric Cooperative and the City of Sturgis.
Fourteen Michigan cooperative and municipal utilities sent aid, as well as Rock Falls municipal utility out of Illinois.
Crews worked around the clock to restore outages only to have their progress wiped out by another storm the following day. Numerous members experienced multiple power disruptions.
Great Lakes Energy restored over 70,000 outages with the help of 70 additional lineworkers on their system.
“It was a well-coordinated effort, and our members certainly appreciate the mutual aid assistance we received,” said Great Lakes Energy CEO, Bill Scott.
The City of Sturgis was hardest-hit by the final storm. The municipal utility received mutual aid support from 70 additional journeymen, apprentices, tree trimmers and operators.
Cherryland Electric Cooperative experienced over 15,000 outages during the event, its first major storm since implementing a new text outage system.
“The new text system drastically reduced our call center volume and visits to our online outage map,” said Cherryland Member Relations Manager, Rachel Johnson. “Our analytics show that members definitely prefer text messages and Facebook updates for storm communications.”
The new system kept Cherryland members informed with nearly 51,000 text message updates.
Thanks to the commitment and responsiveness of our statewide mutual aid network teams, all cooperative and municipal power systems affected by the storms were fully restored by Aug. 18.
June marks a huge milestone in the southwest Michigan rural broadband revolution as Midwest Energy & Communications (MEC) installs its 10,000th high-speed fiber internet customer.
In 2015, MEC launched a five-year plan to deploy fiber internet across its southwest Michigan service territory, leveraging the investment in the two-way fiber communications infrastructure on its distribution system to make the best available high-speed option available to all electric customers. Residents in much of the country’s rural space remain unserved and underserved with true high-speed options, and MEC has established a model and approach that is now being implemented by other cooperatives across the country.
“We heard for many years from our electric customers about the need for options. Many were using satellite, DSL or even dial-up and those platforms just don’t cut it in our increasingly digital world,” said Bob Hance, president/CEO. “As a locally-owned cooperative we are committed to building relevant rural communities and ensuring that geography doesn’t limit someone’s scope of opportunity. Fiber internet is changing the landscape in rural southwest Michigan.
“We knew the interest was there, but never imagined hitting this major milestone inside of the five-year mark,” Hance added. “This speaks both to the need for the service and the quality of service that we’re delivering.”
MEC used a grassroots approach to drive the five-year construction plan. Interested customers submitted expressions of interest, and construction plans proceeded based on the areas with the greatest interest.
“Everyone wanted to be first, and had a compelling reason why they needed to be first. We were in the impossible position of having to determine a construction plan, so we placed that firmly in the hands of our customers,” Hance explained. “Someone was always going to be in Year 5, and we’re finally there.”
MEC is celebrating the 10,000th customer milestone by donating $10,000, targeting organizations in communities that fell into the fifth year of construction.
“These communities may be last, but are not least in any way, shape or form. This is one small way we can thank them for their great patience through this process,” Hance said.
Using partnership support from Wolverine Power Cooperative, MEC is making the following awards in June as part of the 10,000th customer celebration:
$2,500 to Autumn House in Paw Paw, which provides adult day care services for individuals with memory impairment/dementia, Alzheimer’s, stroke, Parkinson’s and other physical impairments.
$2,500 to Lending Hands in Portage, which is a medical equipment loan program that lends home medical equipment at no charge for up to seven months.
$2,000 to the Village of Constantine Parks and Recreation Department to support the purchase and installation of new merry-go-round at the local park.
$500 to the White Pigeon Care Network to support the White Pigeon Food Pantry.
$2,500 to the Hartford Public Library to support the Summer Reading Program.
Midwest Connections, an unregulated service of Midwest Energy Cooperative, has launched a rural broadband revolution in southwest Michigan, and is implementing an aggressive construction and activation plan for 2015 and beyond to light up the new fiber internet service, says communications director, Patty Nowlin.
Two new communications initiatives were recently introduced to promote the service and tell the story. TeamFiber.com launched in March. The website invites visitors to “Join the Crowd”, where they are taken into an interactive platform in which they can sign up for service, view the construction zones, and monitor activity through updates and comments. The 2015 build area is identified on the zone map, and member interest will largely drive subsequent construction. “We have committed to building out our entire southwest Michigan service area over the next five years, and will determine next-step construction plans based on where we have the greatest interest. Like our rural electric cooperative history, it’s a very grassroots effort,” Nowlin explains.
The grassroots theme is highlighted in Midwest’s newest tool, the Southwest Michigan Rural Broadband Revolution video. The six-minute piece, which ties together the electric cooperative history with today’s efforts to bring high-speed solutions to the rural space, is receiving a lot of positive feedback from the national broadband community. It was featured in the Baller Herbst List weekly email on April 21. Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide, P.C. is a national communications law firm based in Washington, D.C.
As of April 20, Midwest Connections had 441 active customers with nearly 300 more awaiting installation. Midwest is getting much praise like this from its members: “We spent two years with dial-up, five years with DSL and now we finally feel like we’re connected on par with the fastest internet speeds. We have an Xbox, PS4, Wii, six mobile devices and three laptop computers. We used to have to stagger usage, and now everything can run at once. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!”
Midwest has been leading the charge – in Michigan and nationally – to get high-speed internet service to under and unserved areas. With the new fiber communications system built across its lines, the co-op started providing high-speed internet in summer 2014.