DTE Energy representatives told the Berkley City Council recently that a substation fire that impacted approximately 10,000 customers in Berkley and Royal Oak this summer was, more or less, an aberration.
Regional manager Mike Palchesko and supervising engineer Ron Gerkin said Oct. 15 that DTE's electrical system is not overloaded and required maintenance was performed on the substation that was built in 1952 and serves the northeast corner of Berkley before the incident.
So, what happened July 17?
The catastrophic Webster substation fire on July 17 in Royal Oak and the outages that followed were due to an unusual set of circumstances, the DTE representatives said.
"Webster Substation was in a normal operating state prior to the incident on 7/17/2012," according to a PowerPoint presentation the men gave. "All three transformers and all eleven distribution circuits (DC) were in service, (None of the major equipment was out of service)."
Gerkin said a cable failed after two days of extreme heat, preventing a breaker at the substation from interrupting a fault on the circuit, which allowed the fault to continue feeding the fire.
The Detroit Free Press reported that the high hit 101 degrees July 17, which tied a record first set on July 17, 1887, and DTE said it experienced the highest demand of the year on its electrical system that day.
"Those conditions stretch the system," Gerkin said.
Because of the circuit breaker's failure, the entire substation had to be de-energized so firefighters could put out the blaze and Detroit Edison personnel could assess the damage, he said. The station remained closed while pollution from soot and smoke were cleaned up, Gerkin said.
The equipment failure was so intense that it blew out a window and a door several feet away in the substation, Royal Oak Fire Marshall Fire Marshal Tom Nikkila said.
"It was a high-heat fire," he said. "It was quite an event."
Intermittent outages occurred as the utility worked to jumper service to other substations and portable generators and substations to restore power to impacted customers, according to the DTE presentation.
Gerkin said two breakers adjacent to the fire had to be completely rebuilt.
"Work is still in progress to restore Webster," Gerkin said. "The work they're doing at Webster will eliminate the need to have these interruptions next year."
How about outage compensation?
Councilman Alan Kideckel inquired how residents can go about recovering outage compensation and Palchesko responded that customers impacted by the July 17 outage are slated to receive credits ranging from $25 to $250.
"That work is still going on," he said. "If you haven't received your credit yet, it is coming."
Credits from the July 17 incident will appear on customers' bills. Palchesko said consumers seeking outage compensation in normal circumstances should contact their insurance company and then file a claim with DTE online or by calling 800-477-4747.
But, Mayor Phil O'Dwyer pressed Palchesko and Gerkin to explain why residents have experienced so many outages beyond those related to the July 17 fire during the past 6 months.
The men could not provide a specific answer, but Gerkin said "it could be a very localized event."
Palchesko said customers who have concerns about recurring outages and system reliability can call 800-477-4747 and ask to speak with someone in engineering.
"DTE has always been there to help me address residents' questions," said City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa said.