MPSC urges preparedness, outlines actions to strengthen energy reliability to mark Severe Weather Awareness Week

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  March 22, 2021

Media Contact: Matt Helms 517-284-8300
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Today marks the beginning of Severe Weather Awareness Week in Michigan, and the Michigan Public Service Commission is encouraging Michiganders to think ahead about how to best prepare for storms, high winds and other seasonal weather events that can disrupt utility service to residential and commercial customers. 

The annual week is March 21-27 this year. A statewide tornado drill will be held on March 24 at 1 p.m. 

MPSC Chair Dan Scripps said the Commission has taken a number of steps in recent years to support utility efforts to increase reliability and reduce the length and severity of customer outages.  

"As we learned in addressing the January 2019 polar vortex energy emergency, Michigan has a strong energy system to meet customer needs, but there are risks and vulnerabilities we must address to strengthen the reliable supply and delivery of energy," Scripps said. "The MPSC has actively worked with utilities to focus on reducing these vulnerabilities through measures ranging from stepped-up tree trimming around power lines and replacing aging pipelines to addressing how new technologies can help manage demand to reduce stress on the system during peak use times." 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called on the MPSC to conduct a broad Statewide Energy Assessment in 2019 after a fire at a natural gas compressor station amid severe January cold weather led to calls for customers to reduce their natural gas use  as temperatures dipped below -25 degrees. The final report led to a number of recommendations, including upgrades to natural gas storage and transmission infrastructure to stronger planning for long-term adequacy and reliability of the electric system. Work is ongoing to address vulnerabilities identified in the energy assessment. 

The MPSC in 2019 also launched MI Power Grid in partnership with Governor Whitmer. The initiative is a multi-year stakeholder process designed to maximize customer benefits as the state transitions from large, centrally located power plants to clean, distributed sources of electricity. Among the concrete steps MI Power Grid has taken, the Commission ordered Consumers Energy Co., DTE Electric Co. and Indiana Michigan Power Co. to file improved five-year electric distribution investment and maintenance plans outlining how the utilities plan to ensure safe, reliable and cost-effective electricity for their customers. 

Through MI Power Grid, the Commission, utilities and other stakeholders are also examining how to best integrate distributed energy resources into the state's power grid. That includes solar and wind, energy efficiency, storage, microgrids, and electric vehicles, as well as demand response, which incentivizes customers  to reduce their energy usage  and help lower stress on gas and electric systems during peak use times or system emergencies.  In addition, smart grid technologies help to isolate outages so that they affect only parts of a circuit, while advanced metering infrastructure  enables utilities to monitor real-time electricity use and more closely monitor for outages and grid reliability. 

Through rate cases, the MPSC in recent years has authorized regulated utilities to spend significantly more to reduce the time between tree trimming cycles and for tree trimming around power lines - the biggest source of outages during storms. In rate case orders in 2019, the Commission authorized DTE Electric to spend $283 million on tree trimming in 2019-2021, and Consumers Energy to spend $53 million annually on clearing vegetation and trimming trees around distribution lines. 

The MPSC has also focused on ensuring natural gas reliability. A number of recent pipeline upgrade projects - including Consumers Energy's Mid-Michigan Pipeline between Clinton and Washtenaw counties and Saginaw Trail Pipeline between Oakland and Saginaw counties, two DTE Gas Co. pipelines in the Traverse City area, and Semco Energy Gas Co.'s Marquette Connector pipeline project in the Upper Peninsula - will strengthen natural gas distribution and backup supply routes across the state, adding to the resilience of our natural gas delivery system. 

The Commission also actively monitors the natural gas, electricity, propane and petroleum supply, demand, price, and distribution to guard against and prepare for disruptions, and is responsible for energy emergency planning, preparedness, response, and recovery under the Michigan Emergency Response Plan. 

How to prepare for outages, and stay safe 

Power outages will still happen, and the MPSC encourages Michiganders to prepare their households in case severe weather disrupts utility service. 

Steps to take include having flashlights, battery powered radios, candles, blankets, first-aid kits, non-perishable food and drinking water set aside for an emergency. 

There are also critical safety steps to take: 

  • If a power line goes down near you, stay away from it and immediately report it to your electric company or local law enforcement agency. 
  • If your power goes out, check your fuse or breaker box to see if the outage is due to a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker. 
  • Check with neighbors to see if their power is out. 
  • Call your utility to report the outage and advise the company if there is emergency medical equipment in the home. You can report outages online and view outage maps for the state's two largest utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy
  • Unplug most lights and appliances to prevent electrical overload when power is restored. 
  • Keep your refrigerator door closed as much as possible. Move milk, cheese, meats and other perishables into the freezer compartment. If the freezer is only partly full, group packages together to form an "igloo" to keep items cold. 
  • If you use a portable generator, make sure to operate it outside at a safe distance from your home so that exhaust fumes don't enter through doors or windows. Do not operate a generator in your garage. 
  • Know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning - headache, shortness of breath, fainting, nausea, dizziness and weakness - and if you experience any, get outside and call 911. 

For more safety information, check out the MPSC's emergency preparedness webpage and the MPSC's consumer tip sheet on surviving power outages.  

Additional resources are available from the National Weather Service and the Michigan State Police MI Ready preparedness page

For information about the MPSC, visit www.Michigan.gov/MPSC, sign up for its monthly newsletter or other listservs, or follow the Commission on Twitter or LinkedIn. 

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