FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 17, 2020
The Michigan Public Service Commission today took note of a remarkable year in 2020 as it worked to maintain Michiganders’ access to safe, reliable and affordable energy and telecommunications amid a worldwide pandemic that upended lives and shook the economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic response dominated the MPSC’s work in 2020, as the MPSC Staff transitioned to working remotely to ensure that the agency’s mission of energy and telecommunications regulation continued uninterrupted.
Here’s a top 10 list of the MPSC’s highlights from 2020:
The MPSC staff was among the first state agencies to fully transition to remote working, but the agency didn’t miss a beat in tackling critical issues during the pandemic. The MPSC worked with energy utilities and other State of Michigan agencies to help expand protections and assistance for vulnerable customers. Efforts included ensuring that more than 3,500 disconnected households had their service reconnected and directly linking 41,000 low-income customers to energy assistance. We also helped ensure that $162 million in federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds were distributed broadly, with an additional $35.1 million Congress made available to the state through the CARES Act federal pandemic stimulus.
We prepared to say farewell to Commissioner Sally Talberg, a strong influence on energy and telecommunications issues in Michigan, nationally, and on her coworkers over her 15 years of service to the State of Michigan. She was a commissioner for 7½ years — 4½ as Chairman. Commissioner Talberg leaves at the end of the year to join the board of directors of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. She’ll be missed at the MPSC, but we wish her well in her new role. She stepped down as Chairman over the summer to ensure a smooth transition for Chair Dan Scripps, who Gov. Gretchen Whitmer named as Talberg’s successor.
We marked a full first year of MI Power Grid, the multiyear initiative launched last fall in partnership with Governor Whitmer to help guide Michigan residents and businesses through the rapid changes in the energy industry as it transitions to clean, distributed energy. It’s been a productive first year. MPSC staff and hundreds of stakeholders in seven MI Power Grid workgroups conducted more than 30 stakeholder meetings and issued five reports with recommendations for Commission action. The Commission issued 10 orders related to MI Power Grid.
Enbridge Energy filed an application for siting approval under Act 16 of 1929 to replace and relocate the segment of Line 5 that runs along the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac into a new tunnel it proposes to build deep beneath the lakes. The Commission in June established a contested case hearing process to evaluate the application. Over the course of these last eight months, MPSC Staff were involved in multiple consultation meetings with Tribal Governments, hosted a virtual public hearing to receive public comment, developed and launched a new website dedicated to Line 5 in coordination with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and the Department of Natural Resources, and processed more than 7,200 public comments on the case. The Commission on Dec. 8 remanded the case for a rehearing and new schedule to address the State of Michigan’s revocation of the 1953 pipeline easement under which Enbridge built and operated Line 5 in the Straits.
The MPSC’s IT team led efforts to ensure that the MPSC could hold Commission meetings, public hearings, and cross examinations virtually by Microsoft Teams videoconference, in keeping with pandemic safety measures preventing public gatherings. The virtual meetings have significantly increased public participation in MPSC meetings, leading to more public comments being filed on important matters under review. The MPSC’s Executive Business Section, meanwhile, launched the long-anticipated “Notify Me of Approved Filings” button in the MPSC’s electronic docketing system. This button allows the public the option to receive email updates when new filings are posted in individual cases. In addition, instructions were recently added to make it easier for users to submit public comments on cases before the Commission. The Commission continues to grow its social media presence through Twitter and LinkedIn, and also recently debuted the “MPSC Spotlight,” a new monthly newsletter to help provide more transparency in our work.
The MPSC worked to develop a new Strategic Plan to account for MPSC priorities that will guide our work through 2025. In addition, the MPSC launched a new staff-led diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) steering committee that held dozens of meetings with staff and external entities to address some of the pressing issues of inequality and fairness raised by a year of profound societal unrest following the George Floyd tragedy in May. The meetings have focused on sharing and learning about perspectives, attitudes, experiences, and leading policies to help ensure the MPSC’s work reflects the full breadth of diversity in the state and strives for equity and inclusion in the MPSC’s workforce.
The MPSC adopted amended rules governing the technical standards for gas service in Michigan, standards that hadn’t been updated since 1993. The technical standards promote safe and adequate gas service to the public, provide standards for uniform and reasonable practices by utility companies, and encourage efficiency and safety. The updates include strengthened cybersecurity standards and address emerging technological advancements, in addition to removing references to obsolete equipment from existing rules.
MPSC staff worked with Connected Nation Michigan and other state departments to develop a statewide map of free WiFi hotspots to assist families who lack affordable or accessible high-speed internet at home. Telecom staff participated on a steering committee with other state departments for the Connecting Michigan Communities broadband grant program, which awarded more than $16 million to help extend broadband service into unserved areas in Michigan. Staff also worked diligently to protect customers by ensuring options were available when Talk America Services discontinued phone service in Michigan and by working to address service outages following the Edenville Dam failure in the Midland area and a cut cable incident in the Pentwater area.
The year was filled with lots of bread and butter issues of utility regulation. The MPSC completed five rate cases, including contested cases for DTE Electric Co. and Consumers Energy Co. In addition, the Commission approved integrated resource plans (IRPs) or IRP settlement agreements involving DTE Electric, Upper Peninsula Power Co. (UPPCO), Northern States Power Co. (NSP), and Indiana Michigan Power Co. (I&M), marking the completion of the first round of IRPs established under Michigan’s 2016 energy laws. IRPs are long-term plans, typically spanning twenty years or more, providing the most reasonable and prudent means of meeting the energy and capacity resources of its customers, with updated versions at least every five years. The Commission also requested that participants in MI Power Grid suggest ways that the planning parameters for utility IRPs can consider Governor Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan’s emissions targets. The Commission set schedules for the next round of IRPs to be filed for NSP, UPPCO, DTE Electric, and I&M.
Staff from all areas of the MPSC participated on many new taskforces throughout state government, including the Michigan Poverty Task Force and Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification led by the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, the Environmental Justice Workgroup, U.P. Energy Task Force and Michigan Dam Safety Task Force led by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, and the Connected Michigan Task Force on broadband led by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Newly developed task forces were formed in response to COVID-19, including the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities and task forces on Critical Infrastructure, and the Economy and Workforce.
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