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Report: Internal problems added to length of BWL outage last December

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

The length of last December's power outage in Lansing was made worse by problems within the city's utility, according to a new report.

For four months, a special panel has been reviewing what went wrong during a Dec. 21 ice storm that left thousands of BWL customers in the dark for 10 days or more. In all, the storm knocked out power to about 40,000 BWL customers just before Christmas.

Michael McDaniel led the community review team. He says they found problems with the Lansing utility’s tree trimming and storm damage policies. And a computer outage reporting system failure also complicated BWL’s response.

“There’s no question it would have been two to three days shorter” if not for those problems, says McDaniel.

BWL General Manager Peter Lark says he doesn’t want to “quibble” over how problems within the utility added to the length of the outage.

He says BWL is much better prepared now for future weather events.

“This is a different utility than it was four months ago,” says Lark. 

Lark points to a list of more than 50 recommendations the utility came up with following an internal review after the restoration and cleanup.  BWL plans a more aggressive tree-trimming program to reduce the potential for falling limbs. The utility is also working to improve communication with its customers and local governments.  

But Michael McDaniel believes BWL isn’t doing enough.

“(BWL has) done an excellent job of providing power historically,” says McDaniel. “They have done a very poor job of planning for the future in this area.”

McDaniel says BWL should work with local governments to create a regional emergency center to improve response times to large power interruptions.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero formed the community review team. He says he looks forward to reviewing the team’s report.   

“I can promise you that every word will be taken seriously, every finding will be carefully considered, and every recommendation will be rigorously reviewed,” says Bernero. 

The Michigan Public Service Commission released the results of its investigation of how Consumers Energy and DTE responded to the same storm. Six hundred thousand Consumers and DTE customers lost power, many for more than a week. The MPSC directed the state’s two largest utilities to improve their respective tree-trimming programs, as one way to reduce the size of future power outages.   

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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