LANSING, Mich. (MIRS News) – The Michigan Public Service Commission called the power distribution plans from five utility companies “insufficient,” the reliability of the electric grid inadequate” and current plans to fix the situation as not going far enough.

During a public hearing Thursday, the Commission ordered DTE Electric, Consumers Energy and Indiana & Michigan Power to file plans on how they will invest in distribution and what the plans for maintenance are by Sept. 29, 2023. The Alpena Power Company and the Northern States Power Company must file their first plans by Sept. 30, 2024.

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“We have a lot of work to do, and it is my hope that the actions taken in this order today will serve to kickstart this process, but I recognize that this is not the full solution,” said MPSC Commissioner Katherine Pertick.

She said it was important the Commission keep a close eye on improving the power grid in Michigan.

The Commission said they are looking for several items, such as how to make the grid more reliable and how to upgrade areas by possibly moving power lines underground.

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Another item they want looked at is the balance of investment and affordability for customers.

The Commission noted that other states’ utilities have developed system maps that show the power capacity data accessible by the public. This includes adoption of utilities’ reporting outage statistics that are not just related to weather, which would allow for a better understanding of the overall grid.

The commission is looking for DTE to submit additional information regarding tree trimming and grid hardening to improve reliability. The utility has asked MPSC for permission to raise rates for customers.

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Commissioners said an order would be issued by the end of 2022 that would work to create incentives and penalties regarding power distribution and outages.

“There are too many outages that last too long,” MPSC Chair Dan Scripps said. “They happen too often to the same set of customers and wire-downs clearly remain a significant safety issue.”

On Aug. 29, 70 mph winds blew through Southeast Michigan, causing widespread power outages that lasted several days. A 14-year-old girl was killed and an 8-year-old boy severely injured after touching downed power lines.

“Please also take this opportunity to remind any children in your life to stay away from any downed power lines,” Peretick said.

Regarding education and participation from customers, MPSC also approved a workgroup that had been started when MPSC Commissioner Tremaine PHILLIPS joined in 2019.

“I believe that the data accessibility directives and guidance within this order put our state on the path to being a leader in energy, data transparency and usability, thereby creating a more open marketplace for energy contractors and businesses looking to continue to expand their operations in Michigan,” Phillips said.

The order directs utilities to adopt the federal Fair Information Practice Principles and file reports about how they would implement the data sharing by June 1, 2023. The Commission encouraged the utilities to adopt the Green Button Download My Data and Green Button Connect platforms.

Scripps said the Commission is also looking to branch out to hold more listening sessions and outreach events for insight from customers.

He said they launched a Facebook page recently and have been holding session in areas outside of Lansing, such as Detroit and an upcoming event on Sept. 30 in the Upper Peninsula.