Michigan House Committee demands answers from utility leaders after recent outages

Posted at 5:30 PM, Mar 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-15 17:30:23-04

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — The Michigan House Energy Committee held a hearing in Lansing Wednesday, sending a message to power companies. It wants to know why it took so long to get the power back on after ice storms and what is being done to improve the response during future storms.

Around 700,000 Consumers & DTE customers lost power after an ice storm in February. The Michigan Public Service Commission says the power was not restored quickly enough for far too many.

Elouise Sirleaf says she is one of the people impacted. She drove from Detroit to the hearing to describe being sick with COVID and without power for days.

Sirleaf described sleeping in her kitchen next to her gas stove for warmth, “and afraid to sleep through because I don’t know what will happen.”

She said as an immigrant from Liberia, she felt shocked to experience this in the USA.

“It took me back to a third-world country,” she said.

“We need to fix the darn grid,” said State Representative Helena Scott, D-7th District, and the chair of the committee.

Trevor Lauer, President and COO of the Electric company at DTE Energy, apologized and said the company has a plan for improvement. 

“This is not the experience we want for anybody. We have a plan. We need to continue to invest in that plan,” he said.

“We hold ourselves accountable after the storm because we do not sleep at night knowing our customers do not have power after a storm,” said Tonya L. Berry, Consumers Energy Senior Vice President Of Transformation And Engineering.

DTE Energy and Consumers Energy shared similar plans to improve service. Actions include increasing tree trimming, more underground infrastructure, and technology that allows the companies to remotely change the flow of energy around infrastructure damage.

WXYZ asked Consumers Energy if it is demonstrating its willingness to hold itself accountable by only paying $25 to those without power for 5 days - the minimum required and $10 less than DTE. 

“I think it is a step in the right direction,” said Christopher Laird, Vice President Electric Operations at Consumers Energy.  “As we heard from the MPSC we will work with them. The accountability piece for us is preventing the outage in the first place. That is what we will strive for. “

WXYZ asked DTE Energy if it is prioritizing investors over customers by announcing cuts to investments to maintain earnings numbers.  Lauer said the cuts aren’t implemented yet and will not impact reliability.

“We’ve scaled our overall investments in the grid dramatically and we are going to continue to try to work with all the stakeholders,” said Lauer. 

The Michigan Public Service Commission is holding three town halls next week as it works to hold utility companies accountable.

The MPSC in a release announced it will hold two in-person town halls in areas hard hit by the ice storm on March 20, from noon to 2:30 p.m. at American 1 Credit Union Event Center, 128 W. Ganson St. in Jackson, and again from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Fordson High School’s auditorium, 13800 Ford Road in Dearborn.

The MPSC also will hold a virtual town hall meeting, live-streamed over Microsoft Teams, on March 21, 6-8 p.m. A link to participate through Microsoft Teams will be posted closer to the day of the virtual town hall on the event’s webpage.