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MPSC encouraging people to suggest penalties, incentives to improve DTE, Consumers reliability

DTE Energy crews work on repairing power lines on Orchard Lake Road after a storm in August. DTE said the storm knocked down more than 2,000 power lines. / File photo.
DTE Energy
DTE Energy crews work on repairing power lines on Orchard Lake Road after a storm in August. DTE said the storm knocked down more than 2,000 power lines. / File photo.

The Michigan Public Service Commission has unveiled a so-called "straw" proposal (Case U-21400) on the possibility of new penalties and incentives to improve the reliability of electricity in Michigan.

The straw proposal is basically an informal discussion starter for ideas and feedback from stakeholders, including customers, about whether new penalties and incentives could improve the poor reliability record of the state's two largest utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy.

Michigan is among the worst in the U.S. for frequency and duration of outages.

One of the Commission's suggestions in the straw proposal is a new bill credit for customers who experience seven or more sustained outages a year.

The Commission also included a suggestion of additional fines if a utility fails to fix its worst-performing circuits, which can deprive many customers at a time of their electric power.

Some public comments were already filed early in the day on Wednesday, shortly after the straw proposal was announced.

"Using financial "punishments" to motivate a utility company whose compensation comes from the customers whom they serve is counterproductive, because as ratepayers, those same customers will be forced to cover the costs of the fines....Please kill this straw proposal and do not make the ratepayers summon the big bad wolf to blow it away," reads one filed comment.

"I would like to say we have not only experienced at least 4 power interruptions we also had to throw food away and replace a fridge because of the constant power interruptions," reads another filed comment. "So yes I agree with this proposal. However I believe it should be a heavier fine. A company like DTE only cares about profits. Hit them where it hurts."

In a statement, Consumers Energy said, "We are reviewing the proposal. Consumers Energy shares the commission’s commitment to improving our customers’ experience and improving the reliability and resiliency of our system. We are working hard to achieve that goal and will provide feedback on the proposal as invited by the commission."

From DTE: "We are reviewing the MPSC's straw proposal and will offer feedback at the request of the commission on performance-based disincentives and incentives. Our work to reduce the frequency and duration of outages is already underway. We are executing our four-point plan to transform the electric grid to build the grid of the future for Michigan that our customers expect and deserve. 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 are laser focused on delivering for our customers."

Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are among Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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