From the Headlines – August 23-27, 2021

Called to account: A state commission is demanding answers from energy utilities for the outages that affected over a million homes in early August. “The MPSC recognizes Michiganders’ rights to expect reliable service from their utility companies and timely restoration of power after storms,” Michigan Public Service Commission Chair Dan Scripps said. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel expressed support for what she called the MPSC’s “proactive response.  “We must approach our ongoing utility shortfalls with urgency, which is why it was important to me to begin gathering feedback from consumers who have dealt with outages all summer long,”  she said. The MPSC wants to increase the amount of data it receives from utilities in order to improve reliability. To that end, the commission will require utilities to:

  • Report on efforts to manage vegetation and harden the grid.
  • Track the frequency and duration of outages in utilities’ worst-performing areas.
  • Report on the 10 ZIP codes with the best and worst histories of outages and list the top 10 ZIP codes where tree trimming and other efforts are being targeted. 
  • Provide summaries for each utility’s five-year plan to prevent outages and improve reliability.
  • Submit plans for providing bill credits to customers following this August’s storms as well as summaries of reconnection efforts and communications with customers. (Fox 17, press release)

$100: Meanwhile, DTE said it would offer credits of $100 for customers whose power was out for six or more days. This comes on top of the $25 the utility offers for customers without power for 120 consecutive hours. In an opinion piece,Amy Bandyk, executive director of Citizens Utility Board of Michigan (CUB), referred to the $25 amount as “absurdly small” and stressed that Michigan utility customers experience more severe power outages than most of the country while paying some of the highest rates in the region. CUB is asking that utilities be penalized for poor performance and that they automatically provide more generous bill credits, without customers being required to apply for them. Utilities can recoup these paltry fees by charging all customers for these credits when they raise rates again. Bandyk argues this practice should be barred if a utility’s performance is substandard. (Detroit News, Freep)

Heatwaves and outages: Continued waves of storms have led to additional power outages across the state, which could cause problems for those lacking air conditioning during this week’s heat wave. Temperatures are likely to climb into the 90s and the heat index could exceed 100. As of Wednesday, at least 26,000 DTE customers were without power. In response to the heat, Detroit opened four cooling centers and six library branches to help residents stay cool, a significant reduction from previous years when more than 20 library branches and more than a dozen recreation centers were used for cooling. (Detroit News, Channel 4, WXYZ)

Municipalization: One Ann Arbor city council member wants the city to pursue its own solution to the problem of energy reliability by investigating the possibility of establishing a municipal utility. “We’re in a situation where we are basically… begging DTE to provide service we need and I’m interested in trying to figure out how we get out of that situation,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson. She introduced a resolution for the city to do a feasibility study for creating a municipally-run utility, which she says could cost the city around $120,000. (Channel 4)

Without warning: Following floods in Detroit in 2016, independent investigators suggested a text service to warn vulnerable residents about basement flooding, but these recommendations were never taken up by officials. Such a service may have helped residents remove valuable items from their basements during June’s flooding. Investigators also suggested residents install backwater valves to prevent flooding, but the measure wasn’t widely promoted. Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown says they plan to create an opt-in emergency alert system for Detroiters and will launch a pilot program to help residents pay for installing the backwater valves. (Freep)

Flood zone demos: The city of Dearborn Heights is demolishing four more homes in the Ecorse Creek floodplain, with plans to replace them with green infrastructure to help buffer against flooding. So far, the city has torn down 16 homes and wants to purchase and demolish another 16, using city funds and a Federal Emergency Management Agency/Michigan State Police Hazard Mitigation grant. Mayor Bill Bazzi said the relocations were agreed upon voluntarily with homeowners. (Fox 2)

Fouled water: Flooding and stormwater runoff contributed to high levels of harmful bacteria in local waterways and led to the closure of nine local beaches last week, including Belle Isle Beach. Updated closures and advisories can be tracked on the Michigan Beach Guard webpage. (MLive)

Horne Fire: Proving that fire isn’t just a problem in the West, a fire hit Isle Royale National Park this week, burning at least 200 acres. The park covers Isle Royale and hundreds of smaller islands in western Lake Superior. Portions of the park were closed and firefighting planes used water from the lake to try and contain the fire, which was started by a lightning strike. (Detroit News)

Wet and dry: Michigan’s ongoing flooding problems represent the flipside of the extreme dryness affecting much of the western U.S., according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Their research shows that much of the eastern half of the country has received significantly more rain over the last 30 years while the West has gotten less precipitation. And while these changes could be the result of weather variability, they’re also consistent with climate projections that suggest wet places are likely to get wetter and dry places drier. And this trend is likely to accelerate. “Precipitation is one of the key climate variables,” said Aiguo Dai, professor of atmospheric science at the University at Albany, SUNY. “The direct impacts from a warming temperature are important, but the indirect impact through changes in precipitation and storm intensity will be even bigger.” (NY Times)


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