Michigan Democrats pressure utilities: more credits for power outages
- Michigan Democrats urge utility companies to reimburse residents impacted by power outages
- Customers who have been out of power for five days may apply for a credit on their next utility bill
- Utility companies are preparing for more outages ahead of ice and freezing rain.
Democratic pressure is building to hold Michigan utility companies more accountable for long outages in the wake of thousands of Michigan residents being without power for more than five days, including throughout the weekend.
Michigan House of Representatives Majority Leader Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, called for committee hearings regarding the power outage that began last Wednesday that left more than half a million Michigan residents without power for days.
Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, joined the chorus of complaints on Monday, saying she wants utility companies to be better equipped for Michigan winters.
“While this ice storm appears to have been one of the worst we have seen in many years, winter weather is an expected occurrence in Michigan. Residents deserve a grid they can rely on,” Nessel said in a press release.
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The immense power outages are the result of a rare ice storm that swept the country. Southeast Michigan received nearly half-inch of ice which put extra weight on trees and power lines causing many downed lines and loss of power.
DTE Energy said it had restored 95 percent of customers that were impacted by the storm as of 7 a.m. on Monday. Still, there remained 30,000 customers without power and an additional 10,000 customers that lost power over the weekend, the company confirmed.
"We completely understand the frustration of being without electricity and we will continue to work with state and local leaders on our shared goals of continuing to improve reliability, deliver cleaner energy, while maintaining affordability for our customers," Paula Silver, DTE senior vice president for corporate communications, said late Monday.
Consumers Energy restored power in communities that were most impacted and will continue restoration efforts for the 25,000 people without power in rural areas by Monday evening, Norman Kapala, vice president of general operations for the company, said in a press release.
Aiyash urged DTE and Consumers Energy to reimburse customers for any food and medicine they lost because of the outages.
“Nearly a million have suffered without heat & electricity because two utility companies put their profits above investing in the grid,” he said in a tweet. “I’m calling on Consumers Energy and DTE to pay customers back for lost food and medicine and reimburse them for outage time.”
DTE will automatically offer a $35 credit to customers that have been without power for more than four days, Ryan Stowe, vice president for distribution operations, said at a Monday press conference.
While the company is proactively issuing credits to impacted customers, they will continue to evaluate metrics for issuing credits in the future, Stowe said Monday.
Consumers Energy currently offers customers that have been out of power for more than five days a $25 credit. Customers whose power wasn’t restored as of Monday afternoon will qualify for that credit.
It is unacceptable to only provide credits to customers who have been out of power for at least five days, Aiyash said.
“If these were situations that happened once every 10 years, once every 20 years, one could understand,” he said, "but the unfortunate reality is that this is a crisis that happens frequently.”
He said he plans to introduce legislation that will require utility companies to automatically reimburse residents for spoiled food and medicines as a result of power outages and provide credit to residents, no matter how long they have been without power.
Nessel, meanwhile, recommended utility companies provide more substantial credits for residents who lose power. She also recommended they be penalized for not meeting set metrics that ensure reliability.
“Despite asking for record increases time and time again, our utilities have failed to adequately invest in their own infrastructure or prepare for these storm events, choosing instead to leave ratepayers in the dark,” she said.
Utility companies are preparing for more outages as the state receives more freezing rain and snow.
Most of the state is under a winter weather advisory until Tuesday morning. Between two and four inches of snow is expected with some ice.
Joshua Paciorek, spokesperson for Consumers Energy, said the company is monitoring the weather and preparing for outages in areas north of southeast Michigan near Ludington, Big Rapids and Bay City.
He said the company was choosing to keep all the crews that are already here finishing the work in southern counties so they’re ready to assist with any potential restoration efforts in mid to northern counties.
“The weather conditions have to be just perfect for the freezing rain and the ice to materialize,” he said.
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