Whitmer urges Michigan power companies to credit customers for outages, pay for tree trimming

More than 800,000 lost power earlier this month

Lineman work on a DTE Energy power line Aug. 24, 2020 in Livonia, Mich. (WDIV)

After another massive power outage event in Michigan this month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is calling on the state’s utilities to help families and to take action to prevent future events.

In a letter to the CEOs of DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, and Indiana Michigan Power, Gov. Whitmer calls for utility companies to automatically credit residents who experienced power outages and to increase the amount paid out. Whitmer also urged the companies to increase tree-trimming and other “grid-hardening” practices, adding that the utilities should finance the improvements, not taxpayers.

Michigan AG Dana Nessel called on utilities to offer credits to customers without power earlier this week.

“This summer, Michiganders have been dealing with extreme weather events that led to lengthy power outages and repeated flooding,” said Whitmer. “More than 750,000 Michiganders lost power over the last few weeks, with some outages lasting up to a week on some of the hottest days of the year. Outages like these lead to fridges full of spoiled food, interfere with life-saving medical equipment, disrupt the workday, and exacerbate the dangers of unmitigated hot weather. We need tangible, immediate action from Michigan’s three largest utility companies to ensure the production and delivery of affordable, reliable energy to every family, community, and small business.”

During the most recent outage event, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois all saw outages, but Michigan seems to have been hit the hardest, having more than 10 times the outages than the other states. Some homeowners in Oakland County were without power for seven days.

Related: Nearly a million Michigan households lose power -- Why does this keep happening?

Customers can apply for an outage credit online: click here to submit a request with Consumers Energy, or click here to submit a request with DTE Energy.

Consumers Energy offered this statement in response to Whitmer’s letter:

“As an energy provider, we know keeping the lights on is job one for Consumers Energy. Dealing with power outages can be frustrating for our customers, and we’re proud of our team’s amazing work last week to restore power swiftly and safely and care for our customers who were impacted by the extreme weather Michigan endured. To work to prevent outages, we’ve already more than doubled our investment in grid hardening reliability and increased our forestry investment by more than 60 percent since 2018. Looking forward, we plan to continue to significantly increase our investments in grid reliability. We have a $5.4 billion electric reliability plan that is a blueprint for serving Michigan today and innovating to reduce the duration and number of power outages. We are proud to partner with the Governor and Michigan Public Service Commission on improving reliability, in an affordable way, when historic weather events hit our state.”

MPSC offered this statement in response:

The MPSC shares the governor’s concerns about reliability challenges facing Michigan’s electric utilities and welcomes her approach to improving the reliability of the state’s electric grid.

Tree and limb contact with power lines causes the great majority of outages in Michigan, and the MPSC has for several years directed utilities to speed up tree trimming, in addition to replacing aging infrastructure to harden the grid. But as recent storms show, we’ve got more work to do, particularly as climate change makes storms increasingly severe.

Some changes are already under consideration. This includes raising power outage credits from the current $25 that utilities pay to customers who suffer lengthy or repeat outages, and making those payments automatic, which the MPSC’s staff has proposed as part of our efforts to update reliability standards.

We’re currently developing our next steps consistent with the governor’s recommendations and will have more to say on that next week.


About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.