Lawmakers Question Utilities About Ice Storm Response, How to Improve

Posted at 7:41 PM, Jan 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-21 21:04:12-05

LANSING, Mich. — Lansing lawmakers met with the heads of three major utility companies in Michigan, Tuesday.

Legislators questioned company leaders on how they responded to December’s ice storm and what their plans are to improve.

“This storm is an outlier. It cost 48 million. We will utilize insurance,” Dan Malone with Consumers Energy testified.

Malone said it’s one of the most significant storms in the companies 126 year history. He and leaders from DTE Energy and the Lansing Board of Water and Light talked about what worked and what didn’t.

Mutual assistance was one thing that worked for Consumers, Malone said. Utility workers from 13 states traveled to Michigan to help restore power. Malone gave his company a grade of “B” when it comes to how it handled the outages. That acknowledges room for improvement.

“We had some customers talk about [sic], we’ll have [the power] back on Tuesday, and it turned into Thursday. And we also had some we told Thursday and it came back on Tuesday. And we know that is the most crucial thing for the customer,” Malone said most customers understand, but communicating estimates is key.

The Leach Lake Cabins manager said ice-covered trees fell on power lines and knock out service during the storm. Her out-of-town guests were without power for 4 to 5 days, she said.

She said the Consumers trims trees, but “aren’t really going in there to get the trees that are causing the problems.”

Next door to her business, a tree trimming service was still cleaning up on Tuesday. It’s been weeks since the storm.

“There’s trees along the lines, and if we have another ice storm, they’ll be taken the lines out. So it just seems like they’d keep on top of that,” Doris Allerding, a Barry County resident said.

Dan Malone hears those concerns. He said Consumers Energy needs to improve on trimming trees. That’s something he said takes planning by Consumers and cooperation from homeowners.

“That is the number one still, cause of incidents, with trees. And one thing we like with your support and we know you get communities and concerns when we tree trim, but our support when we’re out there doing it,” Malone explained.

Lawmakers launched a series of questions. They asked about government regulations or labor contracts that prevented the utility companies ability to respond in a timely manner. The answers are no and no, according to Malone.

They also wanted to know if it’s feasible to bury the lines underground. Malone said it’s very costly and would run into the billions. That’s much more than the tree trimming budget of 45 million dollars a year.

“We need to start working more with our municipalities to try to clear out these trees that are dead and make sure that they’re not going to be affecting the reliability going in the future,” Aric Nesbitt, the Republican state representative of Lawton told FOX 17.

A second meetings of the minds hasn’t been set yet, however FOX 17 will up on the committee’s next plan of action.

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