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Utilities face inquest before Michigan Public Service Commission over August outages

down powerlines and tree limbs after a major 2021 storm in Milan Michigan
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

The Michigan Public Service Commission will hold an inquest of regulated utility companies in the wake of August storms that resulted in widespread electric outages.  

Utilities must answer questions about the companies’ responses to the storms, which that left more than a million Michiganders without power, some for?more than?a week.

The Aug. 10-12 storms swept across the Lower Peninsula, with winds topping 70 mph, leading to extensive damage to trees, utility poles and power lines. DTE Electric Co. reported more than?500,000?outages and Consumers Energy?Co.?reported 372,000 customer outages. 

At a special meeting on Wednesday to approve the inquest, Commissioner Katherine Peretick said the commission needs to require more of utilities.

"The two largest storms in DTE Electric's 135-year history happened in 2017, and this one in August, 2021," said Peretick, "and we can no longer treat these events as rare."

Commissioner Dan Scripps said it may no longer be appropriate to use historical storm data when deciding what utilities should spend on boosting reliability.

"Because in an era of climate change and an era of increasing extreme weather, I think that the future may very well look very different than what we've experienced in the past," Scripps said.

The commission has ordered egulated utilities to file reports on their tree-trimming programs, a breakdown of each utility's worst-performing circuits, a list of the top ten ZIP codes that have the most and least frequent outages and the longest and shortest restoration times, plans for bill credits, and details of customer communication efforts.

In addition, the commission directed 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.?

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Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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