Year in Review: MPSC helps state adapt amid changes in energy and telecommunications in Michigan


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The Michigan Public Service Commission had an extraordinary 2019 as the agency dealt with immediate challenges and looked ahead to a cleaner power grid while remaining focused on ensuring safe, reliable and accessible energy and telecommunications services at reasonable rates. 

The year kicked off with a jolt to the state’s energy supplies that spurred a deep review of Michigan’s ability to keep natural gas and electricity flowing. The year included the launch of a new initiative to guide the state’s rapid transition to clean energy. Also among the year’s big achievements: ensuring that more than $4 billion in federal tax cuts for Michigan’s energy companies were returned to ratepayers.

Here’s a top 10 list of the MPSC’s highlights from 2019:  

  1. Polar vortex and the Statewide Energy Assessment

Amid a polar vortex, a Consumers Energy compressor station fire limited the state’s natural gas supply, and customers were urged to turn down their thermostats in order to reduce demand for natural gas. Simultaneously, a regional electricity generation emergency led to demand-response customers being asked to reduce electricity use. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer subsequently asked the MPSC to review the state’s energy supply and preparedness, and in September the agency released a 200-page Statewide Energy Assessment outlining immediate steps the Commission and its Staff will take to ensure the state’s energy systems become more resilient and able to withstand extreme weather events, aging infrastructure and other challenges.

  1. New commissioners and other changes

Commissioner Dan Scripps joined in February, Commissioner Norm Saari ended his term in August and Commissioner Tremaine Phillips came aboard in September. The Energy Security section was transferred to the MPSC. The Commission hired a new public information officer and a new executive secretary. It also created a new communications section to increase transparency and public outreach and education, including a new website and expanded social media presence.

  1. New energy supplies: clean, renewable and competitively procured

The state’s shift to clean generating resources such as wind and solar continued, with hundreds of megawatts of future renewable energy projects being approved through MPSC orders in several renewable energy cases and in integrated resource plans for Consumers Energy Co., Alpena Power Co., Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp., and Upper Peninsula Power Co. The MPSC also saw overall expansion in demand response and energy waste reduction programs.

  1. Ensuring affordability

The MPSC’s low-income working group continued its work with state agencies, utility providers and diverse stakeholder groups on how energy waste reduction and energy efficiency programs can help make customers’ utility bills more affordable. MPSC Staff also worked with the Department of Health and Human Services to enhance energy assistance and with utility companies on rates for low-income customers. The MPSC is also lending support to the work of Gov. Whitmer’s U.P Energy Task Force, which is led by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and includes affordability as a focus.  

  1. Telecommunications services accomplishments

Michigan joined the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier, allowing for streamlined eligibility screening for telecommunications carriers offering federal Lifeline phone and broadband customer discounts. The Commission completed the final rebalancing of the Intrastate Switched Toll Access Restructuring Mechanism, with almost $9 million disbursed.

The MPSC completed a cost study model to review costs for next generation 911 service providers. Staff also coordinated with other state agencies to help review grants for $20 million in Connecting Michigan Communities broadband grants, which will be awarded in summer 2020.

  1. New Distributed Generation pricing

Pursuant to Michigan’s 2016 energy law, the MPSC approved new distributed generation tariffs in May 2019 for customers of DTE Electric and Upper Peninsula Power Co. with on-site renewable energy systems such as solar panels. The new distributed generation program approved by the Commission is based on the new law. Customers will now receive full energy and capacity payments for any excess generation supplied to the utility. Adoption of distributed generation in Michigan continues to grow.

  1. Kicking off MI Power Grid

The MPSC in October launched this new multi-year initiative to guide Michigan residents and businesses through the energy industry’s rapid change in the transition to clean energy. MI Power Grid’s three areas of emphasis are customer engagement, integrating emerging technologies, and optimizing grid performance and investments. A modernized electric grid will help improve reliability and encourage adoption of new technologies, from electric vehicles and electricity storage to smart sensors and controls. The transition to clean energy provides opportunities to grow the state’s economy and reduce the impact of our energy systems on the environment.

  1. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

The MPSC concluded its work to ensure that $4.1 billion in tax cuts for the state’s utilities through the federal 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act were returned to ratepayers through monthly bill credits or longer-term adjustments to rates.

  1. Gas safety infrastructure and oversight

The MPSC’s Gas Operations Section launched a new database system to track inspections of gas pipeline companies, investigation of incidents and damage prevention enforcement activities. Staff investigated issues related to utility companies being late to mark thousands of excavation notifications. Gas safety Staff continued to support and monitor pipeline infrastructure replacement, which resulted in the elimination of more than 275 miles of high-risk distribution mains in 2019.

  1. Electric vehicle pilots launched

Consumers Energy and DTE Electric launched electric vehicle (EV) pilot programs approved by the MPSC aimed at removing barriers to EV adoption and effective planning of EV charging infrastructure. The experimental programs will test technology innovations, rate design, customer response and other factors. Pilot program data and lessons learned will help utilities and the Commission to make more informed decisions over the long term.

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