Pissed-off planner: upgrade the damn grid!

Source: star-telegram.com

Source: star-telegram.com

For the second time in six weeks large swaths of Greater Lansing have been thrust into the dark and cold by bad weather – first a wind storm and now an ice storm. And once again, much of the suffering could have been reduced by upgrading our antiquated power grid. It is insane that in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, that our citizens must bear frigid temperatures in their homes because the electric power industry insists on using the cheapest and most easily disrupted method for distributing power – above ground power lines on ugly flimsy sticks.

  • How many disasters does it take for the electric utility industry, the public, elected and appointed officials, and the regulators to wake-up and employ a modern system that includes a much greater use of underground conduits?
  • How many emergency repairs does it take to exceed the cost of putting power underground?
  • How many emergency crews must be brought in from out of state before the utility bean counters figure it out?
  • How many more times must people suffer in the cold or darkness without power?
  • When will we stop spitting into the wind over and over again?

It is also shameful that few, if any communities appear to have any kind of emergency plan in place for dealing with thousands of area homeowners without power. As of last night, only three smaller communities (all in Clinton County) offered up their buildings as an emergency warming center and/or shelter. That is simply unacceptable! Other than, “it sucks to be you,” there seemed to be nothing from communities in Ingham or Eaton Counties. At the peak of the storm’s power outage impact, more than 75,000 customers were without power just in the Lansing area – some may not get it back for a week! Entire communities are in the dark when temperatures are not expected to exceed 25 F for most of the week.    Folks – that is just as much of a disaster as a flood, tornado, or earthquake. Where’s the plan?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • If your community does not have an adopted emergency plan or disaster response plan, get busy and adopt one pronto. Also, incorporate key elements of it into your master plan.
  • Work with area communities to develop a region-wide plan for a coordinated response. Remember – disasters don’t care about municipal boundaries, so we shouldn’t either.
  • Require ALL new construction and redeveloped sites to have all electric power lines placed underground.
  • If you have tax increment financing authority in a downtown development authority or elsewhere, apply a portion of those funds to placing utilities underground.
  • Lobby and advocate to elected officials and state regulators to require utilities to upgrade the grid and build redundencies into them.

While I have definitely raised alarm bells in the past about the ridiculous number of power outages that occur here (even without storms) to both local and area officials, I should have bent more ears on this issue and been more consistently vocal about the potential for widespread impacts from strong storms. Hopefully, from this point forward, this disaster will serve as a wake-up call to utilities, planners, and officials across the region that something must be done to upgrade the grid…and now.



  • Most areas are now expected to have power fully restored by 12/29/13.
  • A warming center is being opened at Haslett High School.


  • Our friends in Toronto and surrounding areas of Ontario suffered major damage as well. Please keep them and all others who are suffering from this storm in your thoughts and prayers.
  • Progress is being made in Greater Lansing to restore power – peak outage estimates now exceed 75,000 homes in the area.
  • More warming centers have been opened each day and some communities have declared a state of emergency.
  • One of the local utilities has indicated this ice storm was the worst one in its 126 year history.

12/30/13: at least 3,000 homes remain powerless in Greater Lansing fully eight days after the ice storm ended.

This entry was posted in Advocacy, Alternative energy, architecture, cities, civics, civility, commerce, Communications, economic development, energy, environment, geography, government, health, history, Housing, humanity, infrastructure, land use, nature, planning, politics, product design, seasons, spatial design, sustainability, urban planning, weather, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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