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Utility oversight, shorter blackouts goals of new House task force

A downed wire in Ann Arbor after ice storms. Hundreds of thousands of homes remained without power for days.
Alexander Clayton
Michigan Radio
A downed wire in Ann Arbor after ice storms. Hundreds of thousands of homes remained without power for days.

Michigan House lawmakers are forming a new task force to come up with legislation to address problems with Michigan’s power grid.

The Energy Reliability, Resilience and Accountability Task Force is planning a statewide listening tour to gather ideas. It’s scheduled to start in June and wrap up in September.

Task force chair, Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit), said she expects that to result in new legislation for when lawmakers come back from their summer break.

“Our intent is to make changes and we will be doing that because our customers and our constituents in Michigan need affordable, reliable service and it’s our duty as legislators, and they look to us to make sure that happens,” Scott told reporters during a press conference announcing the creation of the task force.

Some ideas Scott mentioned for possible legislation included building out the state’s power grid and increasing compensation for blackouts. She said the current reimbursements don't come close to covering the cost of losing power.

“We’ve heard from constituents that it isn’t enough. When people lose the food in their refrigerator, when moms lose their breast milk, when seniors are cold for two weeks at a time without power, you know that’s unacceptable,” Scott said.

The nine-member task force is made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans.

The move to put the group together is part of a response to widespread power outages this past winter that left hundreds of thousands of consumers without power for days.

During follow-up hearings, lawmakers questioned leadership from utility companies and members of their regulator, the Michigan Public Service Commission, about what could change.

Some lawmakers seem dissatisfied with progress in the months since.

When asked for a comment on the new task force, one of the companies involved in the winter outages, DTE Energy, said it’s currently working on grid upgrades and tree trimming to increase reliability.

“From trimming thousands of miles of trees, updating existing infrastructure, rebuilding significant portions of the grid and accelerating our transition to a smart grid, we look forward to sharing our progress and our path forward with the task force,” a written statement from the utility said.

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