LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Public Service Commission on Wednesday directed the electric utilities it regulates to answer questions about the companies’ responses to storms that left more than 1 million Michiganders without power, some for more than a week.
The commission also wants the companies to address how to best prepare for extreme storms that have grown increasingly severe and frequent amid the state’s changing climate, according to a news release.
Storms swept across the Lower Peninsula Aug. 10-12, with winds topping 70 miles per hour, leading to widespread damage to trees, utility poles and power lines.
DTE reported more than 500,000 outages and Consumers Energy reported 372,000.
More than 1 million utility customers lost power when factoring in smaller utilities.
“The MPSC recognizes Michiganders’ rights to expect reliable service from their utility companies and timely restoration of power after storms,” MPSC Chair Dan Scripps said. “In the last several years, we’ve taken a number of concrete steps to improve reliability and update customer bill credits. But as this summer’s storms laid bare, we have more work to do, and we have to do it faster.”
The commission is trying to “expand the data it receives from utilities about their efforts to boost reliability, support more transparency around planning and encourage more engagement in how best to prepare and harden Michigan’s electric distribution system to better withstand the state’s increasingly recurrent extreme weather.”
Wednesday’s order from the commission addresses recommendations Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made in a letter on Aug. 20, with the goal being to center customers in discussions to ensure the efforts are informed by the impacts of outages, especially on the most vulnerable members of the community.
Utilities regulated by MPSC will now be required to file reports on:
- Vegetation management and grid hardening efforts, and how those efforts contribute to reliability performance
- A breakdown of each company’s worst-performing electric circuits, including frequency of and duration of outages and repeat outages and where those circuits stand in relation to tree trimming practices, grid hardening and other system upgrades
- A list of the top 10 ZIP codes that have the most and least frequent outages and the longest and shortest restoration times, and the top 10 ZIP codes where future efforts for the most tree trimming, reliability and resiliency improvements are planned
- Summaries of efforts in each utility’s five-year distribution plans to tackle outages and reliability, including – for Consumers and DTE – information on metrics and financial incentives and penalties
- Plans or actions after the August storms addressing bill credits for customers, and a summary of restoration efforts, including costs for restoration, details of customer communication efforts and opportunities for improvement in storm response and communication customers, including proactive communication efforts with vulnerable customers
In addition, the commission wants the utilities to provide cost and benefit information about moving established electric lines underground, the maintenance cost differences between overhead and underground electric lines and reliability and safety comparisons between the two.
“I’m encouraged to see this proactive response by MPSC as thousands of Michigan residents once again woke up in the dark this morning after severe weather overnight,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “We must approach our ongoing utility shortfalls with urgency, which is why it was important to me to begin gathering feedback from consumers who have dealt with outages all summer long. Hearing directly from customers is imperative in shaping well informed policies and expectations for the utility companies.”