By Joe Bennett
All across Michigan, our daily economy and quality of life depend on the public infrastructure around us, including those big electrical towers and wires you see in urban and rural corridors and along highways. These societal assets are part of the backbone power transmission grid that carries safe and reliable electricity into our communities, serving our homes, businesses, hospitals, plants and schools.
Since this power infrastructure is largely outside, utility companies face the challenge of being in harmony with the natural world through four seasons. Power lines, particularly the high-voltage lines that transmit massive amounts of electricity across the country, can be found in all environments. As Michigan’s largest electrical transmission provider, ITC Holdings takes our environmental stewardship role very seriously, from initial planning of a transmission line through the operation of it.
Planning and siting lines
When planning transmission projects, we include environmental assessments for wetlands, threatened and endangered species and other sensitive habitats. By including these factors at the start of a transmission line route analysis, ITC can adjust the placement of the line and structures to avoid or limit environmental impact.
Construction and recycling
Rebuilding hundreds of miles of old transmission infrastructure poses the challenge of how to properly handle retired components. ITC decommissioned and recycled an estimated 5.3 million pounds of metal in the electric transmission network in the last year alone, including circuit breakers, transformers and other metals. Decommissioned cedar transmission poles have been repurposed to support wildlife restoration efforts, becoming nesting platforms in the Huron River Watershed.
Our commitment to the environment extends to the workplace, with waste reduction efforts under way at several ITC facilities in Michigan. By removing wood, cardboard, paper and plastic from general waste streams and recycling these materials, we have reduced the average volume of material sent from our warehouses to landfills by 50 percent over the past few years.
Safe and reliable operations
Remember the Northeast Blackout of 2003? That event, which impacted 50 million people across eight states and Ontario, was triggered when a high-voltage power line in Ohio brushed against a tree. To prevent such catastrophic events, vegetation management is a key component of any utility’s operations and maintenance program. Foresters and other trained field staff routinely inspect transmission corridors, identify both appropriate and incompatible species on a site-by-site basis and recommend suitable management methods in the greenways.
Restoring natural habitats
In addition to maintaining safe and reliable service, responsible vegetation management can result in diverse, stable greenways under and adjacent to transmission corridors with less environmental disturbance. For example, ITC partners with Stony Creek Metropark in Shelby Township, MI, to manage the removal of invasive woody and herbaceous species, and the re-establishment and seeding of native prairie grasses and wildflowers in the transmission corridor passing through the park.
ITC also partners with The Nature Conservancy to restore Lakeplain prairie lands in Southeast Michigan. Restoration involves eliminating invasive plant species that crowd out the original prairie and are detrimental to wildlife. This effort helps restore ecosystem functions, improve and increase habitat for rare insects, plants and animals and increase flora and fauna diversity.
Continuing to modernize the grid
Here in Michigan, ITC has made significant strides in rebuilding the transmission infrastructure. Today, the system ranks among the top in the nation in reliability. Our focus remains ensuring that all of Michigan is supported by a modern power grid that can meet the state’s energy needs in the 21st century and beyond.
Joe Bennett is vice president, engineering for ITC Holdings Corp. He oversees the asset management, design and project engineering functions as they support the capital and maintenance programs for ITC’s operating entities. Mr. Bennett holds a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in energy systems from Michigan Technological University.