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Mich. regulators launch inquiry into electric utility storm response

The Michigan Public Service Commission directed DTE Electric Co., Consumers Energy Co. and other electric utilities to file a report on their response and distribution system performance during the Aug. 10-12 storms that left nearly 1 million residents and businesses without power.

In an Aug. 25 press release, the PSC said it opened the proceeding "to expand the data it receives from utilities about their efforts to boost reliability, support more transparency around planning, and encourage more engagement in how best to prepare and harden Michigan's electric distribution system to better withstand the state's increasingly recurrent extreme weather."

The commission's announcement follows Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently joining several cities and local activists in calling on DTE and Consumers to improve grid resilience and expand customer credits following the storms. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who also recently pushed for the utilities to offer more credits to customers, praised the PSC's directive.

In the Aug. 25 filing, the commission said despite storm hardening efforts by the utilities including tree trimming and infrastructure replacement, "it is apparent more needs to be done." (Case No. U-21122, Case No. U-20147)

The order directs the utilities to provide information on plans for storm outage credits, vegetation management, future tree-trimming efforts, reliability and grid hardening efforts, as well as a summary of the costs and outages associated with the August storms.

The order also calls for more information related to the costs and benefits of moving overhead electrical lines underground. The utilities have until 5 p.m. on Oct. 1 to file their reports. Other utilities named in the order include American Electric Power Co. Inc. subsidiary Indiana Michigan Power Co., Xcel Energy Inc. subsidiary Northern States Power Co., WEC Energy Group Inc. subsidiary Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp., Alpena Power Co. and Upper Peninsula Power Co., which is a subsidiary of Axium Infrastructure Inc.

Katie Carey, a spokesperson for Consumers and parent company CMS Energy Corp. said the utility filed a $5.4 billion electric reliability plan with the PSC in June. "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% since 2018," Carey said. "We will continue to work with the PSC on improving reliability, in an affordable way, when historic weather events hit our state."

DTE Electric, a subsidiary of DTE Energy Co., did not immediately respond to a call for comment. Alpena is a subsidiary of Alpena Power Resources Ltd.