Widespread power outages trigger new state website to hold utilities accountable
Six months after severe, destructive storms knocked out Michigan’s power grid and left up to a million people in the dark for a week or more, state regulators said they would create a new online tool to help hold utility companies accountable for future storms.
The state’s Civil Service Commission has launched an investigation into widespread power outages caused by storms that swept through Lower Michigan between Aug. 10-12, 2021, leaving behind twisted power lines and toppling trees and electric poles. Details of when power would be restored during the ordeal proved unreliable to many, and subsequently the lives of hundreds of thousands of Michiganders were thrown into chaos for a solid week during the one of the hottest periods of summer.
Many have paid for expensive, air-conditioned hotel rooms or sheltered in with friends and family for comfort, while the total financial losses across Michigan from spoiled food and medicine remain unknown.
State utility regulators said they will now create new utility notification measures and a related online clearinghouse of that information – data on system reliability, outages and response. to storms – which should be ready in early 2023, officials said.
Authorities hosted a two-part technical conference for experts from across Michigan and beyond to discuss ways to keep the most lights on during destructive storms and restore power as quickly as possible when parts of the state darken.
The MPSC felt that it would be beneficial to have a “dedicated, publicly available set of resources on the topics of distribution system reliability, customer outages, and storm response.” Some of the details that will be publicly available include storm type, number of people with power outages, storm duration and restoration in days, dollars spent per event, dollars paid in outage credits and mutual aid details.
Other information will include regional details on tree trimming, such as the number of miles of power lines cleared of foliage and the time workers spend doing it. Data should be searchable by postal code.
Exactly how the website will look or function has not yet been determined, said MPSC spokesman Matt Helms. He said an example of the type of sites the agency can create is the utility customer data page.
Officials of Michigan’s two largest electricity providers said utility companies look forward to working with state regulators on new reporting measures that will create a publicly available database of information.
“Consumers Energy remains committed to building a more reliable and resilient electricity grid for all of our customers. As severe storms become more frequent due to climate change, our electrical reliability plan serves as a blueprint to better serve Michigan today and meet the challenges of the future,” according to a company statement.
Consumers plan to upgrade equipment, clear trees from power lines and install new technologies to reduce the duration and number of power outages, officials said.
At DTE Energy, officials said the company is committed to providing the data requested by the MPSC and making investments to improve the reliability of its electric service. The company’s chairman spoke last week at an event focused on climate change.
Jerry Norcia said DTE was moving away from coal-fired power plants faster than expected and increasing its targets to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 by investing in renewable energy generation. He said the company also intends to improve the way electricity is delivered due to the challenges posed by storms fueled by climate change.
“As the road has become more twisty with climate change, we’ve seen more and more severe weather attack our network,” Norcia said, mentioning the 11 recent severe summer storms.
“We’ve never seen this in our history (until) last year. We’ve had massive power outages and it’s created all sorts of heartache and frustration for our customers. So we need to build a network more resilient.
The state’s power grid was recently ranked among the worst in the nation for multiple reliability measures by the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Citizens Utility Board of Michigan. The group’s leader said the state’s new data reporting plans are positive steps that should be part of the solution to the unreliability.
“But the scale of the problem is so great that measures such as better reporting and more accessible information will not be enough. The Public Service Commission needs to take strong action that will get utilities to pay attention and show them that it is wrong for Michigan customers to pay some of the highest rates for some of the least reliable electrical services in the country.” , said Amy Bandyk, CUB. executive Director.
She argues that the state should also revise the bill credits Michigan residents receive after long power outages, an argument also made by Attorney General Dana Nessel after last year’s damaging and disruptive summer storms.
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