PEWAUKEE, Wis. — American Transmission Co. today took the unprecedented step to shut down two submarine cables in the Straits of Mackinac that electrically connect the Upper Peninsula to lower Michigan as the result of yet-undetermined damage.
The cables tripped offline about 30 seconds apart Sunday evening, April 1. A patrol of the overhead elements of the system between Point Lebarbe in St. Ignace and the McGulpin Riser Station in Mackinac City showed no damage. The submarine cables, which contain a mineral-based fluid for insulation, were monitored overnight and subsequently determined to be leaking. Pressure on the system was reduced to minimize the fluid leak as maintenance, environmental and operations personnel worked to locate the compromised section of the cables on Monday, April 2. Investigations included aerial patrols over the Straits, cable testing and system reconfiguration options.
Extreme weather conditions, including icing in the channel and on shore, hindered the damage investigation and contributed to ATC’s decision to shut down the cables this morning, April 3. As a result, the two cables cannot be repaired and have been rendered permanently inoperable. ATC will be determining the condition of other cables in the Straits.
“It was an extraordinary set of circumstances, but ultimately, the decision to shut down the cables had to be made,” said Mark Davis, ATC chief operating officer. “We will continue to investigate the cause of the incident, determine any necessary remediation efforts and continue communicating with the appropriate regulatory agencies.”
ATC has notified the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the Michigan Public Service Commission of its decision to shut down the electrical cables.
ATC owns and operates most of the electric transmission grid in the Upper Peninsula. The system continues to operate normally at this time. ATC is coordinating with the Midcontinent Independent System Operator and Midwest Reliability Organization to determine short-term and long-term solutions.
Lanida Chang, consultant strategy and initiative manager, says she loves what she does because she knows she adds value. In her role, she helps to drive core initiatives within American Transmission Co.’s operations department that improve ATC’s ability to reliably, effectively and safely deliver power.
“I feel very fortunate that I’m able to do something that I love and enjoy doing,” said Chang.
Chang works with ATC operators, who operate the grid in real time from ATC’s control center. Operators help move electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s needed through ATC’s network of transmission infrastructure.
“System operations is really the core of ATC. It’s what runs the electric grid. Those are the people behind the scenes that make everything work,” said Chang.
Chang says she sees ATC’s role as much more than just helping to keep the lights on – reliable energy delivery helps to power communities and even save lives.
“I know that when businesses are running and that when people are in hospitals, they need the electricity to work – that’s us. That’s us providing that,” she said.
Chang says she’s looking forward to continuing her growth with ATC.
“It’s a great place to be. I see myself being with ATC long-term,” she said. “For me, this is my second home, this is my second family.”
If you would like to grow your career with an organization with plenty of positive energy and colleagues like Chang, check out our careers page to search open positions.
FERC approved request to modify 2018 transmission rates, benefitting customers
American Transmission Co. has received permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to modify certain provisions of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator Tariff, which determines how transmission customers are charged for transmission services. The waiver granted by FERC allows transmission customers to benefit sooner from the lowered corporate tax rate implemented in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which reduced corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent. The new corporate tax rate will result in approximately $50 million in savings to ATC transmission customers in 2018 for both network and regional transmission costs.
MISO requires transmission rates for each year to be set in the fall of the previous year, and ATC’s 2018 transmission rates were established before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. ATC voluntarily petitioned FERC for this waiver to pass the savings resulting from the tax rate reduction to transmission customers at the earliest date possible. Without the waiver, ATC customers would have had to wait until 2019 for the corporate tax reduction to be reflected in their rates and the savings refunded.
ATC, along with other transmission owners in MISO, filed the petition on Feb. 1, 2018, and FERC approved the waiver on March 15, 2018. ATC network transmission rates reflecting the new corporate tax rate will be implemented for the March billing cycle and ATC customers will receive billing adjustments for January and February in April.
As part of our commitment to the community, American Transmission Co. supports educational programs that enrich and enlighten students in the areas we serve. ATC employees are sharing their strengths with students involved in science, technology, engineering and math programs throughout Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.
Future Milwaukee engineers
To celebrate Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day during National Engineers Week in February, ATC invited girls in grades six through eight at Milwaukee Public Schools Fairview School to visit its Pewaukee headquarters.
Women employees from engineering disciplines ranging from electrical to civil engineering shared experiences about their education and careers and gave the students the opportunity to ask questions.
Students then toured the ATC operations center. Their tour guide, Sandra Anderson, team leader of real time operations, said, “I hope the students learned that women work in practically all arenas of industry and are succeeding. Being successful takes hard work, dedication and excellence.”
System Operations Engineer Amanda Dagens said, “I loved how engaged the students were. They were so attentive to what we were presenting and had great questions – not your typical run of the mill questions either – that really made you think. I hope the students enjoyed our time together as much as I did. Giving to our future colleagues is so wonderful for me and I hope someday to see some of those faces working side by side with me.”
This week, a group of ATC volunteers visited Fairview School to work on projects in the classroom. Students in grades two through four were assigned a project to create an egg carrier that, when dropped from the top of the school building, will allow a raw egg to survive unbroken. ATC volunteers provided supplies and helped teachers facilitate the project.
Eighth grade design engineering students at Fairview conducted interviews with ATC employee volunteers to gain the information necessary to design and create a job tool requested by the employee “client.”
Jason Floyd, Fairview science and Project Lead the Way teacher, said, “It was great to see students engaging with adults in a career-oriented environment. The participants did a great job simulating a client-customer relationship. Authentic experiences like these allow students to gain the necessary skills and experiences to be successful in higher education and the workforce.”
Each group of Fairview students will have three weeks to complete their respective project. Employees will be invited to attend the egg-drop event and an open house presentation of the projects.
Robotics in the UP
A group of students mentored by ATC Senior Project Manager Jim Pericolosi recently competed in a robotics tournament after building and programming a robot.
High school students in the Dickinson County School District in Michigan competed at the First Robotics Competition last week at Escanaba High School.
With just six weeks to build the robot, a group of roughly 20 students worked together to complete the project.
Pericolosi says he’s proud of what the team accomplished.
“We’re setting up a good foundation for future years,” he said.
Pericolosi’s involvement with STEM programming in the Dickinson County School District started last year when he gave a presentation to middle school students as part of ATC’s commitment to fostering an environment for STEM education.
We look forward to continuing to work with students in STEM to broaden their knowledge of our industry and plant seeds to help the people who will engineer our future grow.
A group of American Transmission Co. engineers are driving down costs and improving efficiency by finding a solution to a big problem that starts with a little bird.
While many factors can cause wear and tear on wood electric transmission poles, woodpeckers can often cause some of the most serious damage.
Woodpeckers frequently bore into wood transmission poles to look for insects or make nests. Over time, the holes from the woodpeckers can deepen and multiply, compromising the structural integrity of the poles. That’s why Christopher Facklam, civil design engineer, and Gabriel Nelson, associate civil design engineer, set out to find a more efficient and economical way to analyze woodpecker damage and provide recommendations for handling damaged poles.
“If the damage from the woodpeckers is bad enough, the pole can actually snap in half. What makes woodpecker damage so dangerous is the fact that holes are often near critical points,” said Nelson. “Typically, the birds perch on bolts and peck above them, which is exactly where you do not want holes.”
Woodpecker damage assessments at ATC were previously conducted by a contractor. But now, thanks to the new process Facklam and Nelson developed, those assessments can take place within ATC for a fraction of the cost. The new process is also faster and more accurate.
First, inspectors in ATC’s asset maintenance department inspect poles and record the number, depths and locations of woodpecker holes. Then, ATC’s engineering team analyzes the data to make recommendations. If the structure is acceptable, ATC’s maintenance team takes the lead by filling the holes with a foam epoxy and/or wrapping the structure in wire mesh. If the structure needs to be replaced, an ATC engineering team is assigned to the replacement project. Then, the structure is replaced and wrapped with wire mesh as a preventative measure.
“Being internal employees, we have access to all the necessary records for analysis and we are familiar with gathering these records for use. This saves time for the ATC maintenance personnel who, in the past. would need to gather the initial information and any subsequent requests for the consultant,” said Facklam.
Janssen Baij, senior maintenance engineer with asset maintenance, has worked closely with Facklam and Nelson to streamline the process. He says bringing the analysis in-house has resulted in shorter timelines, more accurate analyses and significant cost savings.
“No longer do we have to gather all of the information for a specific structure. We can now send the woodpecker inspection report to engineering and have them gather all the required information related to the pole. This decreases the turn-around time required in the past. The sooner we know a pole is a reject, the sooner we can react to replacing the pole,” Baij said.
The in-house process is also more accurate. Previously, a lack of data could cause more poles to be replaced than necessary. With more data, the engineering team can confidently conclude that some poles, which may have been marked for replacement under the old analysis method, are in fact safe to stay.
“We are performing a more in-depth analysis that is consistent with the way we design new structures. Our analysis utilizes transmission line design software to create a detailed model of the damaged pole in addition to nearby interacting structures,” said Facklam. “This reduces the number of conservative assumptions that may otherwise have to be applied and gives us the confidence that the results are more accurate when we provide recommendations to maintenance.”
If a pole does need to be replaced, crews in the field look for any birds that may still be nesting in a pole before it is taken down.
“Crews check the pole before taking it down to ensure they’re not interfering with nesting birds,” said Mike Warwick, senior environmental project manager. “It’s rare, but they may find an owl or a kestrel. Those birds can nest in holes created by woodpeckers. In one case, we took the section of a pole that did have nesting birds to a wildlife rehabilitator.”
Warwick says pecking into wood transmission poles does not pose any health risks for woodpeckers. ATC has no recorded incidents of any woodpecker deaths or injuries as a result of interactions with ATC facilities.