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Groups say investing in poles and wires alone doesn't prepare for the future power grid

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Environmental groups and consumer advocates want electric utilities to think more long term. The Citizens Utility Board of Michigan, the Michigan Environmental Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club formed a coalition and hired a consultant to do an analysis of Michigan’s future demands on the electric distribution system. The coalition submitted testimony to the Michigan Public Service Commission regarding a proposed rate increase from Consumers Energy.

As part of the proposal, Consumers included a request for nearly $723 million to spend on poles, wires, and substations for the distribution system.

The coalition argues Michigan’s power companies need to be thinking about distribution strategies now, that plan for more rooftop solar and battery storage in the future.

“We agree the distribution spending and infrastructure is critical, but we also think that we need to keep ratepayers in mind and we need to innovate,” said Charlotte Jameson with the Michigan Environmental Council.

The groups say if the utilities such as Consumers Energy and DTE Energy don’t plan better now, it will cost ratepayers more in the future because the power companies will spend a lot trying to catch up.

“And we also need to make sure that utilities are planning and utilizing technology and data so that we can transition to the grid of the future that better serves customers and is more affordable,” Jameson said.

She noted that smart meters that are already operating at homes reveal how and when customers use electricity. That’s valuable data that could be used to help better guide the power companies in how to build a better power distribution system.

Consumers and DTE did not respond to requests for comment.

Editor's note: Consumers Energy is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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