Michigan regulators to probe utilities on power outages

storm
Storm. Image by Keli Black from Pixabay

By ANNA LIZ NICHOLS Associated Press/ Report for America

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan commission will examine data and practices from its regulated electric companies after more than 1 million residents were left without power due to storms earlier this month.

Michigan has seen multiple storms this summer, including a series of storms from Aug. 10-12 that, according to DTE Energy, included wind speeds topping 60 mph, taking down 3,000 of its powerlines.

Since then, Michigan has continued to experience severe weather. A storm late Tuesday left about 79,000 customers without power, Consumers Energy said in a news release, though by Wednesday morning service had been restored to more than half of those.

The Michigan Public Service Commission approved an order Wednesday to collect data on the duration and frequency of outages, identify areas that are prone to or resilient from outages, and examine tree trimming efforts. It also will look at other storm-proofing measures in order to harden Michigan’s electrical infrastructure and make it less prone to weather-related outages.

They will include examining the cost and benefits of putting wires underground and looking at what other states are doing to prevent storm-related outages.

Commission Chair Dan Scripps expressed interest in improving the state’s ability to respond to extreme weather and creating rules for providers that would ensure faster and more transparent responses.

In an era of climate change and increasingly extreme weather, Scripps said it’s important that the commission has started to, “move away from a cycle of ‘a bad storm and then a response and then another storm and another response’, to ‘how do we make this part of the business practice, business as usual’.”

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Part of the probe is to examine bill credits when customers are out of power for a lengthy time.

Earlier in the month, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel called on two of Michigan’s largest utility companies to raise the $25 customer credits required by the state in order to more fairly reimburse customers for any losses during power outages.

DTE Energy announced last week it would give $100 credits for customers whose power hadn’t been restored after the Aug. 10-12 storms by the following Monday.

Scripps said it’s the staff’s recommendation to make the credits automatic so customers no longer have to go through an application process, while adding additional reimbursement for longer outages and raise the current credit with inflation adjustments.

It will take time to formally go through the rulemaking process, but the governor sent a letter to the commission last Friday urging Scripps to expedite the process.

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Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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