DTE must bolster downed wire response, state says

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published January 28, 2019

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LANSING — After two record-setting windstorms and at least one death, the Michigan Public Service Commission went to work to review DTE Energy’s response to downed electric lines.

The result of that investigation led to new wire down relief standards for electricity providers, and nearly a million dollars worth of educational and training initiatives put forth by the utility to try to prevent citizens from coming in contact with dangerous live wires.

“We reached a commitment with the commission to resolve their concerns, and we saw an opportunity to make improvements after the May 2018 windstorm that impacted 300,000 customers,” said Randi Berris, a spokesperson for DTE Energy.

A major catalyst for the MPSC review was the death of a 74-year-old Detroit woman who appeared to sustain fatal injuries after she picked up a downed wire in her yard. DTE Energy crews reportedly found the woman’s body when they arrived on Monday, May 7, to repair the wire that had fallen days prior on Friday, May 5.

Berris said that as part of the agreement, DTE Energy will put forth $900,000 that will go toward educational initiatives with the National Energy Foundation and the Michigan Fire Services Instructors Association.They’ve agreed not to recover those funds through customer rates.

The two-pronged approach outlines programming for elementary-age students on the dangers of downed wires, and also to purchase electrical safety equipment for local fire departments in DTE Energy’s southeast Michigan service territory so they can respond to hazard situations before and until the utility is able to arrive for repairs.

“We’re really going to be more proactive in talking to residents about the dangers around downed wires and how to stay safe around electricity,” Berris explained. “The safety campaign includes working with local fire departments to provide them with some safety equipment so they’re able to turn off power to (address problems).”

The grants will provide $175,000 to the MFSIA and $725,000 to the NEF for public education programming, which she said will include partnerships with groups like the Area Agency Aging and individual senior centers to promote safety messaging to older residents.

And while DTE Energy works to mitigate downed wire threats, the MPSC will be watching.

“DTE must report to commission staff on its progress in meeting its goals, so they will be under continued scrutiny for how they fulfill what they’ve agreed to do,” said Nick Assendelft, media relations and public information officer for the Michigan Agency for Energy and the MPSC. “Consequences would depend on the commission staff’s satisfaction with DTE’s progress.”

Those reports to the commission are to include wire down response times, causes of downed power lines, how many students take part in the education program, actions to secure downed wires, progress in reducing the backlog of distribution system maintenance and efforts to address rear-lot overhead wires. The agreement does not address electricity restoration times.

To view the report on DTE Energy’s downed wire response times, along with the utility’s own internal investigation and comments from the public, the case docket is available on the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs website, www.michigan.gov/lara.