After latest power outages, same question remains: How can Michigan prevent them?
The state of Michigan is still recovering from last week’s powerful storms, which included several tornadoes. And once again, thousands and thousands of Michganders have suffered through extended power outages.
On Morning Edition, Michigan Radio’s Doug Tribou spoke state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor). Irwin’s one of the people who has been calling for changes to utility regulations and practices. He also sits on the advisory board for the group Ann Arbor for Public Power, which is advocating for the city of Ann Arbor to own its own municipal utility company, much like Lansing does.
Tribou also spoke to Consumers Energy President and CEO Garrick Rochow.
As of 7 a.m. Monday, approximately 60,000 customers in Michigan still didn’t have electricity, according to the utility tracker poweroutage.us. About half of those were Consumers Energy customers.
You can hear the full interviews with Irwin and Rochow above.
Sen. Jeff Irwin on the response to the storms this summer:
“It's important to recognize the work of the line workers who are out there oftentimes in tough conditions, trying to get people's power back on. There's a lot of good work that does get done.
"Our power is not just relatively expensive and relatively dirty versus other states'. It's also extremely unreliable."MI state Sen. Jeff Irwin
But I think I'm frustrated, and I know I hear from residents all the time who are really frustrated, with the overall performance that citizens here in Michigan get. Our power is not just relatively expensive and relatively dirty versus other states'. It's also extremely unreliable.
There's all sorts of employers who've been hit hard by this. There are folks who've, you know, just lost a lot of money, productivity. I mean, right now there are communities that aren't even able to open school.”
Consumers Energy CEO Gary Rochow on customers' frustrations after multiple, extended outages:
“We certainly appreciate the patience of every single one of our customers. We realize these are definitely inconvenient. We were out with what we call customer appreciation events over the weekend, giving free hamburgers, free meals, free breakfasts.
[W]hat we're seeing, from a weather pattern perspective over the last 20 years, is more frequent storms and higher wind speeds with those storms. Certainly an impact of climate change. So it's going to be important that we are making thoughtful and sound investment across our infrastructure to be prepared for the future. And that's underway across the state to improve reliability and further resiliency.
Now that comes with a price tag, but we're working hard to keep our bills affordable for every one of our customers through things like energy efficiency and doing our work in a much more efficient way to keep the bills down.”
Irwin on Ann Arbor for Public Power's push to have a city-owned utility in Ann Arbor, something that the city of Lansing already has:
“One other way that residents across the state can hold the industrial utilities accountable is that we have an option in our state constitution to create municipal electricity authorities like we have in so many places across the state of Michigan.
Not just Lansing, but also Holland and Marshall and Wyandotte and Chelsea. These entities allow the public to meet their power needs. Having that alternative is a really powerful way to hold the utilities accountable and make sure that residents needs are being met.
And so we've been exploring that in here in Ann Arbor for a couple of years now, because we want to be able to lower rates for our residents. We want to be able to increase reliability. And we know that there are big opportunities to do that, even with more renewables and a cleaner, more climate-friendly energy mix.”
Rochow on Consumers Energy’s pilot program for burying electric lines:
“We're excited about this program called 'selective' or 'strategic undergrounding' in those critical areas to improve overall resiliency. We do a lot of [line burying] already. We do it in subdivisions, we do it in metro areas, and we're looking to expand that program into some of those areas that are more prone to interruptions.
We've introduced a pilot in this current electric rate case of ten miles, which is very, very small but is an important stepping stone to walking into this and ensuring with the Public Service Commission that we can do it in an effective manner, both from a work perspective and a cost perspective. And then we look to build that up to about 400 miles a year, which would certainly improve reliability and resiliency for all Michigan residents.”
Editor's notes: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interviews near the top of the page.
Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are corporate sponsors of Michigan Radio.