Is DTE Energy knowingly underreporting power outages on dashboard?

Widely used dashboard only shows meters that are out

Ice on utility lines. (Paul Sancya, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

DETROIT – DTE Energy, Michigan’s largest utility provider, is knowingly underreporting the number of power outages on its widely used dashboard, according to a recent interview with a company executive.

Speaking to Detroit NPR station WDET’s Eli Newman after this latest round of winter weather, the utility’s director of digital experience said the numbers are inconsistent between the company’s outage dashboard, or “splash page,” and the recently released outage map.

The dashboard only counts meters that are out. The map counts those same meters and adds in other factors, like phone calls and field reports, which DTE told Local 4/ClickOnDetroit is in many cases accurate, despite being higher than the confirmed number of out meters.

“Basically, there is an assumption, though, that there are meters that are not connecting with the system, because whatever is causing the outage is preventing the connection from happening,” Newman said in the interview taped Friday. “Maybe it’s more proper to say there’s at least this many outages?”

“We won’t get 100% of the meters back, so you’re right,” said Jackie Robinson, DTE Energy’s director of digital experience. “In that splash page, that might be a little low and the map is too big, right?”

But according to utility analysts, the numbers are more than a little low. As of Sunday morning, DTE reported just over 62,000 customers were without power. However, the widely used utility monitoring service showed more than 143,000.

Robinson tried to explain the discrepancies.

“For instance, when somebody is looking at the map, and they look at their ZIP code, and it says that maybe there’s 10,000 outages, that’s generally a guess?” Newman said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a guess,” Robinson said. “It’s a real educated guess. It’s a prediction.”

“The information system that feeds the map draws information from customer calls, field reports, and customer electric meters and inputs it into an algorithm to predict an outage area,” DTE spokesperson Cindy Hecht said in a statement Sunday. “We show the predicted outages on the map. For example, if several of your neighbors call in an outage, and some of the electric meters on the circuit report they are out, the outage management system may estimate that the entire circuit may be out.

“In many cases, this is accurate, but when we get a very large number of outage events, the algorithm can over-predict outages in a specific geographic area. We realize that this can cause confusion and are working to resolve the discrepancy by further calibrating the system. The data on the outage center (i.e. total customers out) draws directly from meters and is the most accurate count of the total number of customers without power.”

Both analysts, like and the Michigan Public Service Commission, which oversees DTE, have notified the utility that its systems’ numbers don’t match. In Michigan, outages must be reported, but there is no requirement about how that should be done.

The revelation and explanation of the underreporting comes as there’s been heightened scrutiny on DTE’s reliability over the course of two winter storm systems in the last 10 days. The outages left hundreds of thousands without power, in some cases for more than a week.

State legislators have called for hearings to be held about how to make the utility more reliable, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office has been in talks about those hearings, according to a spokesperson.

There have also been calls for more information at the congressional level, with both Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Rashida Tlaib calling for answers on Twitter.

READ: Michigan lawmaker’s bill would make DTE, Consumers pay customers for every hour of power outages

“To pay some of the highest rates in the country (and) still have this kind of instability endangers lives,” Tlaib wrote, later advocating to make the utility a government-controlled company. “It’s time to change who controls these critical services.”

Slotkin said just before the second storm hit that she had requested a briefing on the power issues stretching back further than the most recent storms.

“Next week, I’m scheduled to receive a briefing on Michigan’s power issues, and now we’ll have two major storms to discuss, as well as the longstanding issues behind them,” Slotkin said.

In a statement to Local 4, DTE said:

DTE does not underreport outages. As we shared earlier, our Outage Center uses individual meter data, which is the most accurate representation of customer outages. We recently launched a new outage map that utilizes an algorithm to predict outages by location. We are aware that this map is currently significantly overestimating total outage count and we’re working to calibrate it.