August 2021

 

MPSC Spotlight png

Welcome to the August MPSC Spotlight. In this edition, we discuss recent electric reliability challenges and the Commission's ongoing efforts to address them. We also offer an introduction to Consumers Energy's recently proposed Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), review the adjusted funding factor for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund (LIEAF), and highlight our Commissioners' participation in the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) Summer Policy Summit.

Lastly, we offer congratulations to MPSC Chair Dan Scripps on his nomination by NARUC to serve on the new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)-NARUC Joint Federal-State Task Force on Electric Transmission. Chair Scripps is one of ten state commissioners appointed to the task force, which aims to allow federal regulators to "confer with state commissions regarding the relationship between rate structures, costs, accounts, charges, practices, classifications, and regulations of public utilities subject to the jurisdiction of such state commissions and FERC, including through joint hearings." Chair Scripps will bring valuable insight and perspective to this task force, and we are proud of his appointment to work with national experts on this critical issue.


Electric Reliability in Michigan

The summer of 2021 has been unusual and unpredictable in Michigan, as well as across the country. In the last few weeks, areas across the state have experienced severe storms, torrential rains, flash flooding, high winds, and multiple tornados. These severe weather events have led to significant, sustained, and, in some instances, repeated, power outages across the state.

Ensuring the reliability of the electric system is a top-tier priority of the Commission. Our 2019 Statewide Energy Assessment (the SEA) identified a number of threats to the electric system and cited poor vegetation management practices and aging distribution system infrastructure as leading reliability and safety risks to the electric system (pg. 65). In the last several weeks, these risks have led to many of the outages that we have seen.

The Commission has already taken action on a number of fronts to reduce the number and duration of outages affecting Michigan residents and businesses. Since 2013, the Commission has

  • Adopted updated tree trimming and vegetation management standards to improve system performance under both normal and extreme weather conditions;
  • Approved Outside the Right of Way programs to provide for the removal of dead trees outside the right of way;
  • Approved a 7-year Enhanced Tree Trimming Surge proposed by DTE;
  • Approved a ramped-up tree trimming program proposed by Consumers Energy;
  • Required the filing of 5-year Distribution Plans by some Michigan electric utilities to provide a comprehensive overview of planned system investments;
  • Required the filing of system performance metrics by the utilities in their distribution plans;
  • Facilitated a stakeholder process to inform updates to the Commission's Technical Standards for Electric Service and Service Quality Rules, including efforts to expand credits for outages and strengthen its rules for customers experiencing repeated outages;
  • Participated in national discussions to develop best practices in comprehensive electricity planning and on emergency preparedness, reliability, and resilience.

Filings made by DTE demonstrate that circuits that have been targeted by the utility's Enhanced Tree Trimming Program (ETTP) have 75% fewer tree related outages compared to circuits that have not yet been targeted by this program. Evidence also demonstrates that the duration of outages on these circuits are 60% shorter than non-ETTP circuits. However, though extreme weather has fundamentally played a significant role in the damage this summer, more robust vegetation management near power lines (i.e., tree trimming) may have prevented or reduced the severity of these outages, and the Commission remains focused on strategies to reduce the number and duration of outages, as well as the number of customers experiencing repeated outages.

While the Commission will continue to prioritize utility investments to improve reliability, we know that it will take several years to realize the full benefit of mitigation measures and, even then, some outages will continue to occur. With this in mind, there are some basic steps that customers can take before, during, and after an outage to help ensure their safety. The Commission's Power Outage Checklist includes several pieces of advice to customers including utilizing surge suppressors; inventorying and gathering emergency supplies including flashlights, first-aid kits, non-perishable foods, and water; and signing up for alerts and warning systems. Additionally, customers may be eligible for a $25 outage credit if their outages (or a series of outages) meet specified criteria. Finally, customers may contact the MPSC at 1-800-292-9555 to file an informal complaint regarding their utility service. Customers dissatisfied with the resolution of their informal complaint may file a formal complaint with the Commission provided specific legal requirements are met.

The repeated outages experienced by many Michigan customers over the last several weeks are frustrating and have certainly taken their toll. The Commission continues to monitor utility preparation and performance when weather-related outages occur and is working to ensure that the utilities address infrastructure deficiencies that are causing these outages.

Should you have questions or concerns regarding outages in your area, or should you wish to discuss reliability investments or utility distribution plans, please do not hesitate to reach out to the MPSC's Customer Assistance Division at 1-800-292-9555.


Consumers Energy's IRP

Consumers Energy filed its 2021 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) on June 30, 2021 in MPSC Case No. U-21090. IRPs, required under Michigan's 2016 Energy Laws, Public Act 341 of 2016, are long term plans, developed by the electric utility, that outline the utility's plans for providing reliable, cost-effective electric service to its customers over short term, mid-term, and long-term planning horizons.

In Consumers' plan, the company proposes

  • Closing its remaining two coal-fired generating plants by 2025;
  • Building close to 8,000 MW of new solar generation by 2040;
  • Continuing a move toward net-zero carbon emissions;
  • Moving its generating fleet to 90% renewable sources by 2040; and
  • Purchasing four existing natural gas plants in the state to offset a portion of the proposed coal generation retirements.

The company asserts that the proposed plan will save ratepayers approximately $650 million compared to its current IRP which was approved by the Commission in 2019. This case is currently pending before the Commission and the Commission's decision is expected in 2022 following the open contested case process.

The Commission plans to provide an opportunity for members of the public to provide feedback on the company's proposed plan. A notice of hearing will be filed in the docket and publicized on the Commission's website and Twitter page once plans for this public comment opportunity are finalized.

Related links:
More information on the company's previously approved IRP
Information on the IRP process
Consumers Energy's summary of its proposed IRP


LIEAF Funding Factor

At its July 27 meeting, in Case No. U-17377 the Commission approved an adjusted funding factor for the Low Income Energy Assistance Fund (LIEAF), which annually provides up to $50 million in home energy assistance and self-sufficiency services for thousands of vulnerable Michigan households. The factor, which is set each year by the MPSC and is capped at $1 per month per retail billing meter, is now at 87 cents, a four-cent decrease from the previous year. It is collected monthly from participating utilities and the resulting funds are distributed through the Michigan Energy Assistance Program, or MEAP. In 2020, the MEAP program, funded through the LIEAF, provided energy assistance to more than 55,000 low-income households.


NARUC Summer Policy Summit

NARUC logoNARUC held its annual Summer Policy Summit in late July. The summit "features thought leaders, regulators, industry, consumer advocates, and others for an agenda that's practical and educational." MPSC Commissioners Tremaine Phillips and Katherine Peretick each hosted panels during the conference.

MPSC Commissioner Tremaine PhillipsCommissioner Phillips' panel focused on the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program aimed at "bridging the digital divide to efficiently fund the deployment of broadband networks in rural America." The FCC is currently evaluating applications for the fund. The panel considered the role states will have in making sure RDOF obligations are met, explored how states will manage existing programs complementary to the RDOF, and discussed modifications the FCC should consider in the future RDOF iterations.

MPSC Commissioner Katherine PeretickCommissioner Peretick hosted the meeting's opening general session, Connecting the Dots: Riding Above the Commercialization Valley of Death. This session was part of a series examining "the various ways that technological advances emerge and how utility regulators handle them as they mature." Through an examination of battery energy storage, panelists discussed the progression of technologies from initial R&D to commercialization and how that process relates to utility pilot programs and deployment at scale.

Commissioner Peretick also co-moderated a joint session panel on the intersection and coordination of the natural gas and electricity, exploring how bulk power system planners, regulated utilities, and natural gas pipeline operators coordinate to deliver reliable energy under growing electrification and extreme weather.

Commissioner Peretick on NARUC stage

Have a utility complaint, or need help with your utility service? We're here to help. Submit your complaint or inquiry online or call 800-292-9555.


Tune in to our next regularly scheduled Commission Meeting on September 9, 2021 at 1:30 PM.


The mission of the Michigan Public Service Commission is to serve the public by ensuring safe, reliable, and accessible energy and telecommunications services at reasonable rates.


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