Lansing, MI - Concerned about a lack of progress in reducing power outages and ensuring the public doesn’t come into contact with downed power lines, the Michigan Public Service Commission has ordered Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Electric Co. to report to the Commission on their compliance with regulations and past Commission orders governing utilities’ response to outages and downed lines, and directed MPSC Staff to take action to begin a third-party audit and review of all equipment and operations of the two utilities’ distribution systems.
The Commission’s steps today in Case No. U-21305 come amid mounting frustration from the public and the MPSC with a pattern of widespread, lengthy outages from increasingly severe storms in Michigan. During the most recent, on Aug. 29, storms with gusts exceeding 70 mph left nearly half a million Michigan customers without electricity for up to several days. A 14-year-old girl was killed in Monroe and two boys were critically injured in Warren after coming into contact with power lines downed in the storm. Dozens of schools were closed just as the school year was getting underway.
“These actions represent a new approach to the MPSC’s work to hold the state’s two largest electric utilities to account for persistent reliability and safety challenges,” MPSC Chair Dan Scripps said. “Over the past decade the MPSC has issued a series of directives in response to wide-spread outages after storms. While there are important efforts underway, the reality is that we still haven’t seen the improvements in reliability and safety that Michigan customers deserve. This effort to get an independent assessment of the utilities’ distribution infrastructure, programs, and processes will inform next steps and provide a necessary path forward to a power grid that meets the expectations of its customers.”
Today’s order directs Consumers Energy and DTE Electric to report on their compliance with each directive and commitment in previous MPSC orders, including those in Case No. U-21122, initiated after severe storms in August 2021 left approximately a million Michiganders without electricity, some for more than a week.
The utilities also must report on their compliance with each of the directives listed by the Commission in its May 17 order in Case No. U-20169 and on issues dealing with response to downed wires. The report must be filed by Nov. 4, 2022. The Commission directs Consumers and DTE Electric to explain in detail:
- How their downed wire response audits are performed, to verify that the utilities are responding in a consistent manner that complies with regulatory requirements and company procedures.
- How technologies are being used to improve detection of downed wires, to help the Commission better understand the detection system and what improvements can be made to improve public safety.
- How technologies used to monitor and control the power grid, including advanced distribution management systems, advanced metering and other sensors, perform during outages, and what impacts outage-related loss of data from these sensors may have on restoration and storm recovery.
- How critical facilities, ranging from hospitals to schools, are identified and prioritized for restoration of service after an outage, to help the Commission examine potential improvements such as installation of microgrids that could provide redundancy to preserve electric service.
- Their efforts to engage in public outreach, education and training of the public and first responders on the dangers of downed power lines, and on improvements to these efforts given the large-scale outage and downed-wire events in 2021 and 2022.
Today’s order also directs MPSC Staff to begin the process of hiring a consultant to perform an independent third-party audit and review of Consumers and DTE Electric’s electric distribution system, including all equipment and operations, with a focus on reducing the number and duration of outages and identifying improvements needed to increase safety, particularly concerning the risk of public contact with downed power lines.
Staff will report to the Commission what steps are required for this comprehensive review aimed at reducing the number and duration of outages and improving public safety, including the need for a request for proposals to competitively bid a consulting contract for the audit. The cost of the audit will be paid by the utilities, pursuant to state law.
The Commission takes these steps just over a year after the Commission took action in Case No. U-21122 and other measures, and these efforts have produced some effective actions, including more aggressive tree trimming and vegetation management that shows signs of reducing outages and duration of outages where deployed.
DISCLAIMER: This document was prepared to aid the public’s understanding of certain matters before the Commission and is not intended to modify, supplement, or be a substitute for the Commission’s orders. The Commission’s orders are the official action of the Commission.
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