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Stateside Podcast: A reckoning for DTE

High-voltage tower and cables
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In the aftermath of power outages that affected hundreds of thousands of people in February and March this year, many Michiganders are scrutinizing the state’s largest investor-owned utilities: DTE and Consumers Energy.

Town hall meetings after outages

In light of these outages, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) – the agency that oversees utilities in the state – hosted a series of town halls this week. In Dearborn around 80 people attended the meeting; many who were frustrated with the frequency of these outages.

Detroit Free Press reporter Nushrat Rahman, who was there, said some attendees expressed fear around the dangers that come with power outages

“There were folks who were talking about food that had spoiled in the fridge, about their home being freezing and having to stay with others,” Rahman said. “There was a general sense of frustration and just exasperation about having to deal with outages over and over again.”

Rahman said that there was one resounding demand from many of the attendees: that MPSC reject DTE’s rate increase request.

Establish a publicly-owned electric utility

Some residents are saying that their cities should reject DTE altogether. In Ann Arbor, advocates are seeking an alternative to investor-owned electric utilities. Leading the effort is Ann Arbor for Public Power, a local nonprofit advocating for 100% renewable, public-owned electric utility.

“Going without power for five, six, seven days…it really drives home the fact that DTE is just seriously under-investing in our infrastructure and it forces people to reflect on the model that DTE is operating under,” said Ann Arbor for Public Power president Greg Woodring. “DTE is pursuing a profit at the expense of their customers.”

The city of Ann Arbor has set a carbon neutrality goal by the year 2030. Woodring said he doesn’t see this happening if the city continues to use DTE as an electric utility. But because public-owned power does not operate on a profit model, he sees it as an opportunity to both improve infrastructure and see through Ann Arbor’s environmental goals.

“As we are looking down the barrel of the climate crisis, we're seeing that not only does our electrical system create this crisis and continue to exacerbate it, but it’s extremely susceptible to it,” he said. “These storms are only going to become more frequent and more intense. And we need an electrical system that not only is going to stop contributing to the problem, but is going to be able to hold up to the problems that the previous system created.”

DTE is a corporate sponsor of Michigan Radio.

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Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.