Utility companies meet with House committee after power outages - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Utility companies meet with House committee after December power outages

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(01/21/14) - A State House committee wants answers about how utility companies handled the late December ice storm that left some people in Mid-Michigan without power for more than a week.

The House Energy and Technology Committee heard from Consumers Energy, DTE Energy and Lansing Board of Water and Light.

December's storm is considered one of the most significant ice storms in the state's history. Nearly 11,000 wires were pulled down by the ice in Mid-Michigan. Consumers Energy had to replace 10 miles of wiring damaged by the massive ice storm. 390,000 customers were without power at sometime during the nine day period that started Dec. 21.

DTE Energy told committee members 90 percent of its customers in Lapeer County were without service during the storm, and workers had to go door-to-door to check on which houses had been restored and which still needed attention.

Consumers and DTE both say they saw the storm had potential to be dangerous a few days before it hit. Hundreds of utility workers around the Midwest were put on alert before the ice hit.

The storm cost Consumers Energy $48 million, but there will be no rate increase for customers. They admitted the number one cause of power failures during the ice storm was trees pulling down lines and they will make a better effort to trim trees and brush. The utility company says it will step up efforts to trim trees and brush that interfere with power lines.

"We are being very aggressive with that. We'll continue to look at that. We are continuing to increase funding. As I indicated, we spent an average of $39 million the last five years and we're increasing that to $45 million this year," said Dan Malone, Consumers Energy vice president.

"Now we need to talk about prevention and reliability. If you don't lose power, you don't have to worry about restoration time. I think there's much needed improvement in those areas," said Rep. Joe Graves, (R) Argentine Township

Members of the House Energy and Technology  asked the utility companies if putting more lines underground would reduce outages. The short answer is, it's not feasible.

"We think it would be along the order of $18 to $20 billion to take all the wires we have above the ground and move them down," Malone said.

So how does Consumers rate its overall response to the storm?

"I'd give us a B for this one," Malone said.

"It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good. They were very good about communication. They were fairly accurate about restoration times," Graves said.

Committee members also grilled a representative from Lansing Board of Water and Light. They said they were appalled with the utility companies lack of response to its customers during the ice storm.

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