Electric meters. | Sarah Vogelsong/States Newsroom
The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on Friday approved an increase in power outage credits for eligible customers from $25 to $35.
The order also provides an additional $35 for each day customers are without power and makes the credits automatic. Previously, customers were required to apply for the credit.
“The credits may not cover all of the losses electric customers face when they lose power, but this is a major step forward,” said MPSC Chair Dan Scripps. “Not only is the outage credit more, it’s also no longer a one-time credit per incident, and customers will no longer have to request the credits from utilities.”
The application of the outage credit will be made on a tiered system. During catastrophic conditions, defined as a utility having 10% or more of its customers without power, it will take 96 hours to kick in. If between 1% and 10% of a utility’s customers are affected, it will take 48 hours, and after 16 hours during normal conditions. The credits will also be indexed to the rate of inflation.
The MPSC also approved strengthening the rules and technical standards for regulated utilities including the creation of a Distribution System Reliability Metrics webpage that will measure the duration and frequency of outages.
The commission also shortened the required times for utilities to restore long-duration outages; reduced the amount of time first responders must guard downed wires until they’re relieved by a utility lineworker; updated reliability standards to ensure Michigan’s performance indicators match industry guidelines; and established annual reporting requirements for rural electric cooperatives and all investor-owned utilities to ensure they’re reporting service quality and reliability performance to the commission.
“We know we have a lot more work to do, and we’re grateful to have heard from Michiganders during the MPSC’s recent town halls about their frustrations with unreliable service and their ideas for improving reliability, utility response to outages, and customer service,” Commissioner Katherine Peretick said. “We’ve heard you loud and clear, and we are committed to taking concrete actions to improve the power grid.”
Meanwhile, the bidding process is underway for a third-party audit ordered by the MPSC in October to review equipment and operations of the two utilities’ distribution systems.
While utility officials say much of the outage issues are related to aging infrastructure, the consumer watchdog group Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan believes the audit will more likely demonstrate that utility management practices are at least part of the problem.
“The audit may find lots of problems with the physical grid. But reliability has been subpar in Michigan compared to other states for a long time,” CUB Executive Director Amy Bandyk told MLive.
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