Power outage causes, solutions pondered in meeting with state officials

Michigan

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Mother Nature made her presence known in the Mitten this year, including a rounds of storms in August that left some in Southwest Michigan without power for a week.

In all, almost 2.5 million people in the state lost power over the summer, the Michigan Public Service Commission said. For some, blackouts extend beyond severe weather.

At a town hall in Battle Creek Monday night, a handful of people voiced their concerns to state leaders, including state Attorney General Dana Nessel, about an apparent increase in the number and length of power outages affecting their homes.

“We’ve always had extended power outages, but in the last two years, my power’s been out 15 times,” one Bellevue-area resident complained.

A woman who relies on refrigerated medication says that during one outage, she was initially told her power would come on in four hours.

“But it was more like 12 or 18 hours. At that point, I lost the ability to take it to somebody else’s house to refrigerate (it),” she said.

Severe weather or not, tree trimmings along power lines were a common conversation topic. Greg Moore, who runs government and community affairs for Consumers Energy, said that’s not as straightforward a task as you may think.

“In many cases, trees that are outside of our right of way that we don’t just have the right to come in and cut on your property,” Moore explained. “So there are a lot of things we are talking with the (Michigan Public Service) Commission about, with the attorney general about, that hopefully, in the future, will help us respond better, faster and more effectively.”

In addition to improving communication with affected residents, ideas included creating a fund for those displaced during outages, investing in underground service lines and incentivizing Michiganders for purchasing electric vehicles that may help power their home in case of a blackout.

“If people thought it was bad to have their power out when it was 85 degrees, just wait until it is 15 degrees,” Nessel said. “This is a serious set of circumstances.”

A proposed rules change drafted by the MPSC could also help with credits for homeowners in the case of extended outages. In part, the change says power companies must credit the customer a base rate of $35 plus $2 per hour whenever the company fails to restore service within four days. There is similar language in the proposal for normal weather conditions.

The current rule states that 120 hours must have passed since the outage for affected homeowners to receive a credit of $25.

“We’ve been asking since 2019 for there to be automatic credits and for those credits to be significantly higher,” Nessel said.

The proposal is still early in the approval process. It was sent to the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules in September but it has yet to be approved. The MPSC says rulemaking typically takes about a year from start to finish.

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