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MPSC Directs The Detroit Edison Company and Consumers Energy Company to Make Improvements Following Investigation into Electric Outages Caused by Summer Storms

Contact: Judy Palnau (517) 241-3323

March 5, 2009

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) today said it fully supports all of the MPSC staff's findings and recommendations made following an investigation into the responses of The Detroit Edison Company and Consumers Energy to storm damages in their service territories after a series of severe thunderstorms crossed Michigan's Lower Peninsula in June 2008.  Reports indicated that some 720,000 customers of these utilities lost electric power to their homes and businesses for varying lengths of time.

"The lives of thousands of Michiganians were disrupted in the wake of a series of severe summer storms that resulted in widespread electric outages," noted MPSC Chairman Orjiakor Isiogu.  "My fellow Commissioners and I heard firsthand from people at the four public hearings held in the affected areas of the state.  From outages that lasted over five days to the inability to report outages due to a faulty phone system, utility customers voiced their frustrations loud and clear.  Today, we are putting in place changes that will result in increased electric reliability and a better process to restore power more quickly when storms do result in power outages."

The staff's report concluded that electric outages largely resulted from the severity of the storms and observed that, despite the extensive damage, there were no significant injuries to utility workers and no customers reported contact with utility equipment.  Nevertheless, the MPSC staff found that both utilities could make improvements in their responses to severe weather events.

The MPSC staff's report:

·         supported three recommendations made by Detroit Edison that would:

o        perform testing of critical communication and information systems

o        improve the restoration estimate and customer communication process

o        collaborate with communities to arrange for the removal of dead ash trees outside the company's line clearance distance and easements

·         recommended that Detroit Edison provide more detailed action plans and progress reports to the staff until the recommended improvements have been completed

·         recommended that in addition to collaborating with local communities, Detroit Edison should also work with the Michigan Department of Agriculture to develop a program for addressing the problems associated with emerald ash borer infestation

·         recommended that both utilities provide their customers with an annual billing insert containing a storm outage guide detailing the steps to take in case of an outage and providing information on emergency planning in the case of an extended outage

·         recommended that both utilities send a separate billing insert explaining eligibility criteria and the availability of the $25 credit for customers who have extended outages

·         observed that any change to the customer credit for extended outages would require the Commission to amend its Service Quality and Reliability Standards for Electric Distribution Systems

·         recommended that the MPSC direct the utilities to assess and quantify the benefits that Automated Meter Infrastructure (AMI) would have provided in this storm event and report these findings to the Commission

In its response to the MPSC staff report, Consumers Energy said it would annually update its "Weathering a Storm" information guide and that it would include the guide once each in spring and fall billing inserts.  It also said it would improve customer awareness of the $25 credit available for frequent and extended service outages by providing a bill insert and through increased advertisement of the program on its Web site.

In its response to the MPSC staff report, Detroit Edison said it tested its call center infrastructure and continued with efforts to enhance the performance of its call system.  It has established a leadership team with responsibility for reviewing any changes, monitoring the call center infrastructure performance, and performing an annual stress test.  The company also said it intends to improve its restoration estimate and customer communication processes.  To address concerns about ash trees, Detroit Edison said it is developing a plan that will be delivered in several forums including meetings, letters, e-mail, bill inserts and Web site content.  It also said it would add information on applying for a credit for repeated or sustained outages to its brochure on Customer Rights and Responsibilities that is mailed to customers annually.

The Commission said that in addition to supporting the MPSC staff's recommendations, it is also directing both utilities to consult with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and local communities regarding a plan to address emerald ash borer problems, and it directed the MPSC staff to add an information page on the MPSC's Web site on the MPSC's service quality and reliability rules and available credits for sustained or repeated outages.  The MPSC also directed both utilities to ensure that information on credits is available on their Web sites and in brochures explaining customer rights and responsibilities regarding service outages.

Today's order also notes that in December 2008 the MPSC began the process of revising the Service Quality and Reliability Standards for Electric Distribution Systems, as required by Public Act 286 of 2008 (Case No. U-15901).  The MPSC expects the revised service quality rules to be in place by Dec. 31, 2009.

The MPSC is an agency within the Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.

Case No. 15605

 

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