The Michigan Public Service Commission’s 2022 Annual Report released yesterday underscores a year in which the Commission intensified its focus on challenges to the reliability of Michigan’s electric grid as the state’s climate brought increasingly severe storms.
The Annual Report, which is required to be filed on the first Monday of March each year, comes as severe weather over the past two weeks has led to power outages impacting hundreds of thousands of Michiganders, and highlights the focus of improving the reliability of the utilities’ distribution systems that has been a major theme of the Commission’s work over the course of 2022.
Specifically, among the many actions taken in 2022 highlighted in the annual report, the Commission took a number of concrete steps aimed at reducing the number and duration of outages. The MPSC:
- Ordered a first-of-its-kind system-wide audit of the electric distribution systems and operations of Michigan’s two largest electric utilities, Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Electric Co.
- Approved in March 22 an update of power outage credits for customers who endure long outages, from the current $25 one-time credit to $35, plus an additional $35 each day beyond acceptable thresholds. Importantly, outage credits will be automatic; customers won’t have to request them from their utility.
- Approved other changes to the MPSC’s service quality and reliability rules and technical standards for electric service governing operations of the state’s regulated utilities. The additional updates include shortening required times for utilities to restore long-duration outages; reducing the amount of time first responders must guard downed wires until they’re relieved by a utility lineworker; updating reliability standards to ensure Michigan's performance indicators match industry guidelines; and establishing 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.
- Continued its support of more aggressive tree trimming and vegetation management and shortened cycles for tree trimming, efforts that are already showing progress as the utilities report that areas with increased tree trimming have seen fewer – and shorter – outages.
- Directed MPSC Staff to create a webpage on the MSPC’s website, www.michigan.gov/mpsc, focused on distribution-system reliability, outages and storm response as a dedicated resource for addressing those matters. The web page, designed to be a regularly updated resource for ratepayers and others to find the latest information on system reliability, is expected to be published online in the coming weeks.
- Continued its ongoing review of storm outages from the August 2021 storms that left about 1 million Michiganders without electricity — some for more than a week —from winds exceeding 70 mph. Steps included requiring more detailed information from utilities so that the MPSC can have better, more frequently updated reliability metrics that include outage numbers, restoration times, monthly tree trimming updates, amounts spent on restoration efforts and customer outage credits, and data by ZIP code for a more granular look.
In addition to this focus on improving system reliability and reducing power outages, the Commission was also active on a number of other fronts as noted in the Annual Report.
The MPSC continued its work in facilitating assistance in many forms to Michigan’s utility customers. The MPSC:
- Assisted 11,270 customers who contacted the agency’s call center for help with complaints or other issues.
- Awarded $55 million in grants through the Michigan Energy Assistance Program that provided home energy assistance and self-sufficiency services to 56,050 income-eligible customers.
- Launched a new Get Help webpage that’s a one-stop shop for utility assistance and other critical resources for utility customers. The Commission also launched a Utility Program Portal that makes it easier for customers to find information about programs and offerings from regulated utilities.
The MPSC established new Energy Assistance Resource Fairs and Listening Sessions, with five held across the state in 2022 in Gaylord, Benton Harbor, Marquette, Grand Rapids and Melvindale.
The Commission held six public hearings, including taking input on integrated resource plans for Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp., Indiana Michigan Power Co., and DTE Electric Co., and a public hearing on DTE Electric’s rate case, the first time the Commission has held a public hearing in a utility rate case. The Commission also held a regular Commission meeting in Detroit as it explored ways to broaden public participation in utility regulation.
The Commission continued its engagement with Michigan’s 12 federally recognized
Native American Tribes. Efforts included MPSC Staff holding a tribal consultation meeting on the reopened record in MPSC Case No. U-20763, Enbridge Energy’s application to replace a segment of the company’s Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
The Commission issued final orders in electric rate cases involving Northern States Power Co. (Case No. U-21097) and DTE Electric Co. (Case No. U-20836). The Commission issued orders in gas rate cases involving Northern States Power (Case No. U-21226) and Consumers Energy Co. (Case No. U-21148). In all, the Commission approved $203 million in rate increases in 2022, $669.5 million less than the utilities requested.
The Commission continued to work with utilities on new on-peak rates in which customers can save money if they shift power use away from warmer-weather daytime hours when electricity is at its most expensive to produce. The Commission has worked with utilities on these rates — Consumers Energy implemented them in 2021,
Electric Vehicle Pilot Programs
The MPSC continued its work with utility pilot programs that have continued to expand and be offered by more regulated utilities. These pilot programs include rebates for residential, commercial, and EV fast charging stations to facilitate EV adoption, and test technology innovations, rate designs, customer response, and other factors, helping inform the MPSC’s decision making.
In 2022, the MPSC assisted in the development of Michigan’s statewide plan for National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Deployment to guide the use of approximately $110 million in federal funding through fiscal year 2026.
The Commission approved new EV pilot programs for Upper Peninsula Power Co. and Alpena Power Co. Pilot programs were approved in prior years for DTE Electric Co., Consumers Energy Co. and Indiana Michigan Power Co.
Telecommunications Assistance and Broadband Expansion
The MPSC’s Telecommunications Division helped ensure Michiganders are aware of the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provided monthly assistance with internet bills for 534,440 Michigan households. The MPSC also worked to ensure access to the federal and state Lifeline program that provides discounts for phone and broadband service; the Universal Service Administrative Company reports that 118,458 Michigan customers are served through Lifeline.
The MPSC also marked the end of the Access Restructuring Mechanism, a 12-year fund established in 2010 to help ease the loss of revenues for rural incumbent local exchange telephone carriers created with state government 2009 reform of the system of compensation that providers charge each other for originating and terminating calls on their networks.
The Commission updated its organizational structure to better address changes taking place in the energy and telecommunications industries. The Commission established new sections focused on distribution planning; interconnection and distributed energy resources; resource adequacy and forecasting; data access privacy and information technology; and competition, licensing and analytical support. The Commission also created a standalone Gas Safety and Operations Division and updated responsibilities in several existing sections to better streamline regulatory responsibilities. In addition, the Commission consolidated responsibilities in its Telecommunications Division to reflect changes including the expiration of the state’s Access Restructuring Mechanism and the division’s role in facilitating historic federal funding for broadband internet service in Michigan.
Members of the Commission are Chair Dan Scripps and Commissioners Tremaine Phillips and Katherine Peretick. The MPSC’s Staff include approximately 180 people with expertise in engineering, accounting, finance, law, economics and other fields.