Crews work to restore power to Beverly Hills customers on Southfield Road, north of 13 Mile, July 3.

Crews work to restore power to Beverly Hills customers on Southfield Road, north of 13 Mile, July 3.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki


As outages continue, commission reports energy grid is up to snuff

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published July 8, 2019

On a blistering hot afternoon Monday, July 1, many across metro Detroit sat in the dark without power — and that means AC too.

That same afternoon, the Michigan Public Service Commission submitted a report ordered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stating that Michigan’s energy supply and delivery systems are adequate to meet customer needs.

The 220-page report examined five categories, including electric, natural gas, propane, cyber and physical security, and energy emergency management. Whitmer ordered the analysis earlier this year after a blast of polar vortex temperatures strained energy resources as residents tried to keep warm. At the same time, a Consumers Energy compressor station fire in Macomb County disrupted the ability to deliver much of the natural gas that was available to customers.

The perfect storm of problems essentially put a spotlight on the shortcomings of the state’s energy infrastructure.

“This detailed state energy assessment provided the opportunity for the commission to examine whether Michigan’s residents and businesses are able to receive safe and reliable energy service during times of great challenge due to abnormal weather and untimely system failures,” MPSC Chairwoman Sally Talberg said in a press release. “The commission staff examined both shortcomings and strengths of the electricity, natural gas and propane sectors. Overall, the energy system is strong but would benefit from increased resilience, strengthened infrastructure interconnections and improved communication.”

The report found that the state’s energy system meets regulatory standards and is designed to get power to the people, even during peak demand circumstances like extreme heat or cold.

But as many residents could tell you by the light of their candle, even the best-laid plans can go awry.

“In storm situations, especially when there are high winds, with this infrastructure it does happen from time to time,” DTE Energy spokesperson Brian Bleau said July 3 in response to that week’s continued outages following thunderstorms. “It’s usually a tree limb falling on the lines and bringing them down.”

The day prior to that, outages in another area had reportedly been attributed to high demand caused by the 90-degree weather and heavy use of air conditioning in the community.

By the afternoon of July 3, about 80 percent of the customers impacted by thunderstorms the evening of July 2 had power restored, according to Bleau. Around 77,000 customers were impacted throughout the region, and about 400 lines were reportedly down.

MPSC spokesperson Nick Assendelft referred to the agency’s Statewide Energy Assessment, which defines adequacy as the ability to maintain reliability over the long term and is generally equated with having adequate electric capacity supplies arranged in advance of meeting demand during peak times.

Utilities file annual reports on their systems, available to the public online at the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs website.

According to DTE Energy’s most recent filing with the state May 6, there were more power interruptions in 2018 than the year prior, and most of those can be correlated to significant weather events, of which there were 30 documented; five were considered catastrophic storms and impacted hundreds of thousands of customers.

That said, the utility reported that fewer customers were impacted by interruptions during 2018, and those who were went without power for shorter periods of time.

Assendelft did not respond before press time as to whether those numbers are comparable or competitive with those of other states’ energy infrastructure systems.

The final report is due to the governor in mid-September, after which the commission will direct utilities to take appropriate action to address any shortfalls identified. According to the initial report submitted last week, recommendations include to:

• Undertake long-term risk-based, integrated natural gas maintenance and infrastructure planning that includes storage, transmission and distribution assets, as well as long-term risk mitigation plans.

• Better integrate five-year distribution and transmission plans as part of utility integrated resource plans to ensure truly integrated electricity system planning. This should include examining options to expand Michigan’s electrical connections between its peninsulas and with neighboring states.

• Work with stakeholders to understand the value of resource supply diversity to better inform decisions related to power plant development, retrofitting and retirement beyond traditional planning and financial analyses.

• Identify revisions to natural gas utility curtailment procedures to prioritize home heating over electric generation.

• Improve electric demand response programs since some customers did not respond as expected during the polar vortex and utility tariffs were inconsistent. Also, natural gas utilities should develop similar programs as an alternative to broad emergency appeals.

• Enact rules for cybersecurity and incident reporting for natural gas utilities.

• Expand emergency drills to provide a range of scenarios besides outage management and restoration. Communication related to the compression station fire and the polar vortex was confusing, inconsistent and erratic.

• Develop a formal contingency plan for the continued supply and delivery of propane or other energy alternatives in the event of supply disruptions.

• Continue to solicit propane market information from suppliers and create an annual retail propane survey to monitor market trends and gain market insight.

In a prepared statement, Whitmer seemed especially interested in efforts that involve a move toward renewable energy.

“Moving forward, this report will help to inform our next steps in assuring all Michiganders have reliable access to energy when they need it at home, at school and at work. With the transition to more renewable energy resources and the growing impact of climate change, it is imperative that our utility infrastructure can meet the changing demands while keeping rates affordable and protecting the environment,” said Whitmer in the statement.

According to the MPSC, there will be a time period when the public can comment on the initial report, Case No. U-20464.

For more information, visit michigan.gov/mpsc.

 


The dangers of downed wires
Following the polar vortex in late January, DTE Energy — at the request of the Michigan Public Service Commission — allocated nearly a million dollars to improving downed wire relief standards and education efforts to increase community awareness of the dangers of touching live wires on the ground.

In the event of an electrical emergency, DTE Energy advises residents to:
• Never assume a wire is not dangerous, even if it is lying still.

• Never cross the yellow barrier tape that may be around downed power lines.

• Exercise extreme caution near metal fences after severe weather, even if there are no downed power lines in sight. Electric currents will be strongest where a downed wire is touching the metal fence, but even a connecting fence several backyards away can be energized and dangerous.

• Never touch a person who is being shocked. Act quickly, but keep yourself out of danger. If you can do so safely, unplug the appliance causing the shock or turn off the power. Call for medical help immediately. Once the victim is cleared from electrical contact, begin CPR.

• Never throw water on an electrical fire. If you can do so safely, turn off the power or unplug the appliance causing the fire. Call emergency services immediately.

Call the utility immediately at (800) 477-4747 in all cases.