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The Nature of Energy Emergencies

During any given year, states, including Michigan, face a variety of energy disruptions in both supply and distribution.  Where these disruptions are limited in scope and the energy sector resolves them quickly, they are barely noted.  However, if these disruptions extend over wide areas and last more than several hours or days, they may become “energy emergencies” and may require assistance by government.  It is for these energy emergencies that fully developed and well-thought-out energy emergency plans are necessary.

An energy emergency is an actual or potential loss of energy supply that may significantly impact the health and welfare of citizens, the economic stability of a region, emergency services, and/or government operations.  An energy emergency can be caused by natural or man-made disasters, geopolitical events, or market unrest.  While each situation is unique, and it is impossible to envision every potential event or combination of events that might precipitate an energy emergency, the most common causes of energy emergencies can generally be categorized as the following:

  • Severe Weather – Extreme cold and heat waves can stress the energy system when unusual surges in demand overwhelm available system capacities.  Ice and windstorms in Michigan have the potential to disrupt electric distribution.
  • Natural Disasters – Tornadoes, floods, wildfires or other natural disasters can cause disruptions to energy systems by affecting distribution, transmission, generation or other system components.
  • Infrastructure Failures – Unanticipated events resulting from transmission congestion, electric generation interruption, refinery shutdowns, pipeline breaks, and equipment or system failures could result in the reduction of supply and/or disrupt distribution.
  • Commodity Market Volatility – Price volatility or extreme increases in price can impact available supply or inventories of energy fuels.  Destabilized market conditions can also affect demand by influencing consumer behavior.
  • National Security Events – Sabotage, war, acts of terrorism, or cyber-attacks can impact supply availability or result in the physical destruction of energy systems.  Large scale military operations may also place undue pressure on energy supplies.

In the early stages of an energy emergency, the primary role of government is fact finding, monitoring, and information exchange, rather than direct intervention in industry efforts to restore services.  The MPSC serves as a clearing house of information regarding statewide electric, natural gas, and petroleum outages and emergency impacts.