Michigan commission orders audit of DTE, Consumers on power outages, downed lines

Audit follows another major outage event last summer

DTE Electric truck

The Michigan Public Service Commission ordered an audit of the state’s biggest utility companies in response to lengthy power outages and downed power line incidents this summer.

MPSC ordered Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Electric Co. to report to the Commission on their compliance with regulations and past 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 said the audit comes amid concerns about a lack of progress in reducing power outages and ensuring the public doesn’t come into contact with downed power lines.

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In August, a line of severe storms knocked out power to nearly 500,000 statewide, and it took several days for power to be restored to many residents. There were also two electrocution incidents -- in Monroe, a 14-year-old girl was killed after coming into contact with downed power lines, and in Warren, two boys were critically injured from close contact.

Dozens of schools and businesses were closed due to the power outages.

A storm in August of 2021 left nearly a million Michiganders without power for several days. Michigan has the most power outages per capita in the country.

“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.”

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.

The report must be filed by Nov. 4, 2022, according to the commission.

About the Author:

Ken Haddad has proudly been with WDIV/ClickOnDetroit since 2013. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters, and helps lead the WDIV Insider team. He's a big sports fan and is constantly sipping Lions Kool-Aid.