ESCANABA - Thousands of Michigan residents are still without power following severe ice storms that downed power lines across the Lower Peninsula last weekend. The lights may soon be on again, however, thanks to electrical crews from the Upper Peninsula and northeastern Wisconsin that left Escanaba Thursday afternoon.
"Our group is going to go straight to the Flint area but there are patches (without power) all the way across from Kalamazoo to Flint," said UPPCO Customer Operations Supervisor Jodi Pineau.
More than 25 trucks carrying line electricians and support staff from UPPCO and its sister company Wisconsin Public Service left the UPPCO service center in Escanaba Thursday afternoon and traveled to the City of Owosso, west of Flint. The assistance was requested by Consumers Energy, which services 1.8 million Lower Peninsula electric customers.
"It's a pretty common thing when you have this kind of thing happen to reach out to other companies," said Pineau, noting that neither UPPCO nor Wisconsin Public Service customers would be paying to restore power for Consumer Energy.
As of 11 a.m. Thursday, 86,500 Consumer Energy customers remained without power after Saturday's ice storm that caused more than 348,000 outages. Consumer Energy hopes to have power restored to all its customers by Saturday.
"(Our crews are) expecting to be down there until Sunday," said Pineau.
UPPCO and Wisconsin Public Service sent 50 people to help restore power. Six of those workers were from the smaller UPPCO.
While UPPCO services significantly fewer customers than Consumers Energy - around 55,000 located mostly in rural areas - Pineau believes that the challenge of working in a urban setting is not an issue for the linemen, many of whom have assisted with outages before.
"Their main job would be working in Upper Michigan or northeastern Wisconsin, but they may have been out for several outages," she said.
The crews leaving from Escanaba will meet up with crews from Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, and Missouri that are also headed to the Flint area and more than 560 field workers from Consumers Energy that are already working to restore power across Genesee County.
"You're new to the area. You don't know the terrain so it brings some different challenges, but they're used to moving around the different areas working together," said Pineau of the UPPCO workers that will be working with other crews.
Despite the extra focus on the Flint area, which was hardest hit by the ice storms, workers from 11 states and Washington D.C. are also making their way to other portions of the Lower Peninsula to help with outages.
No matter where the crews are coming from, the process of restoring power is the same.
"(It's) no different than when we have outages up in this area just on a much larger scale," said Pineau.