Michigan launches ice storm investigation, reviews utility response to power outages

DTE Energy, Consumers Energy face regulatory review after power outages

DETROIT - Before the "Polar Vortex" there was the December ice storm that wreaked havoc in Michigan the weekend before Christmas.

We showed you the utility crews scrambling to get the power back on, and families spending Christmas in the dark.

The ice storm hit the weekend of Dec. 21 and at some point about 661,000 people were without power. In some cases, it took up to a week to get their power restored.

More: Regulators to investigate Dec. power outages

Now, the Michigan Public Service Commission will now review how DTE Energy and Consumers Energy responded to the storm. It will focus on factors like preparation, system maintenance, crew deployment, and customer communication.

"I really think their customer service needs to not just be completely automated- that's very frustrating," said Stacy Sagert, of Ortonville.

Sagert and her family were without power for six days.

"I'm hoping that with the state getting involved that us as consumers can have some answers as to why it did take so long," she said.

Other customers such as Brock Millard of Columbiaville aren't sure outages caused by massive storms can ever be prevented.

"We're talking about something that's not normal. It's not a normal occurrence to have that much ice," he said.

Millard and his family, including 9 children, were without power for 5 days. They were lucky enough to have a generator that kept the furnace and the Nintendo games
powered up.

While he was more understanding of the power companies' plight, Sagert says improvements should be made, and has this message for power company bosses.

"I'd like to see you go six days without power, during a holiday, in the cold," he said.

Power Companies Respond

DTE released the following statement in response to the investigation:

"This was a huge ice storm, one of the largest in nearly a decade. It's not unusual for the MPSC to look into storms like this. They've done so with other large storms in the past. We welcome the commission's inquiry, and will provide them with whatever information they need."

DTE spokeswoman Erica Donerson says the company has sent claims forms to about 200 customers who requested them. They can ask for $25 credits if they were without power for five days, in this case. However, customers must request that claim form, it will not be sent automatically.

Here's a link to more information from DTE about that process.

Consumers Energy released this statement:

"Consumers Energy welcomes the Michigan Public Service Commission's review of customer service restoration following the Dec. 21-22 ice storm. We're proud of the work by more than 3,300 Consumers Energy employees, Michigan-based contractors and out-of-state line workers to provide safe and timely service restoration to more than 23 percent of our customers impacted by this catastrophic event. We're pleased that customers, emergency operation officials and community leaders are finding our online Outage Map useful, and maximized communication efforts by issuing 25 press releases, pre and during storm, as wells as extensive on-site and statewide outreach to the news media."

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