How Mackinac Island gets electricity

Ever wonder how Mackinac Island gets electricity? After all, there’s no power plant on Mackinac Island. No massive installation of solar panels.

Instead, Mackinac Island gets power from cables running under the water from St. Ignace, several miles away on the mainland.

That’s pretty much the same way power gets delivered to more than 50 other islands that are in the same service territory for the Cloverland Electric Cooperative. But it’s what happens with the power systems on those islands that makes things really interesting.

After all, it’s not always easy for electrical crews to access some of the islands in northern Michigan. Fortunately, Mackinac Island has ferry service from the mainland for much of the year. And even when the Straits of Mackinac freezes over, you can still get to Mackinac Island either by plane or by snowmobile over the ice.

RELATED: How does all that delicious food get to Mackinac Island?

Two electrical line foremen stand by a Cloverland Electric Cooperative truck at the utility’s shop on Mackinac Island

Unique Challenges of Electrical Work on Mackinac Island

Getting around on Mackinac Island can be tricky, however, since automobiles are not allowed. Snowmobiles are perfect for the winter. But when there’s no snow on the ground, crews typically travel around Mackinac Island by bicycle. In fact, the two line foremen who live on Mackinac Island put about 700 miles on their bikes each season!

Their bikes are equipped with a trailer for hauling tools and equipment from the Cloverland shop on Mackinac Island to job sites. It doesn’t take a new hire long to learn that you “don’t want to forget a part and make the ride twice.”

Cloverland line foremen on Mackinac Island do have access to motor vehicles and other motorized equipment to deal with emergency outages. But during the primary tourist season from late April through October, use of those vehicles is rare in order to avoid conflicts with visitors, visitor bicycles and horses.

RELATED: With no cars on Mackinac Island, auto accidents never happen – except for this one

Infographic showing how Mackinac Island gets electricity from the mainland

So long as there’s no emergency power outages to respond to, electrical workers on Mackinac Island attend to any service interruptions that pop up and monitor the power lines for any needed equipment updates. They also keep an eye on any trees that need trimming and perform regular maintenance on power lines and on equipment at the co-op’s shop on the island.

While power lines downtown on Mackinac Island are mostly underground, there are overhead lines in many other parts of the island. Crews complete most major maintenance and system upgrades during the offseason, from November through May.

Two electrical line foremen ride bicycles with tool carts on a dirt path beneath overhead power lines on Mackinac Island


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