Report: Effective response to Dec. ice storm

A storm swept through West Michigan on the weekend before Christmas, leaving behind a thick coating of ice. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8 - December 2013)

LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Michigan regulators say two large utilities had emergency procedures in place and responded effectively to restore power after a December ice storm.

Michigan Public Service Commission staff made the conclusion about Consumers Energy and DTE Energy in a report released this month, 24 Hour News 8 confirmed.

Online: Read the entire report (pdf)

Michigan regulators in January ordered an investigation into lengthy power outages stemming from the pre-Christmas ice storm that knocked out service to about 660,000 customers statewide, the vast majority served by Consumers Energy and DTE. Some people were without power for more than a week.

Utility companies said they were dealing with a record number of downed power lines. The MPSC said some customers had trouble reporting outages.

Despite that, “analysis of the data obtained through this investigation concluded that both Consumers Energy and DTE Electric had emergency management procedures in place and responded effectively and safety to the ice storm event to address the outages witnessed during the December ice storm,” the report found.

“The utilities’ storm response required management of resources, remarkable effort, extraordinary coordination and dedication from nearly 7,000 utility and contracted mutual assistance workers. These utility workers operated for extended periods in very difficult conditions to restore power to the Michigan citizens during the holidays without compromising their safety,” the report reads in part.

The report notes that utilities should continue to work to minimize the impact of future storms.

“While the December ice storm may have been unprecedented in its scope and damage, severe weather events such as this are not uncommon in Michigan. From a historic perspective the December ice storm was the largest ice storm that has occurred in Michigan in over a decade,” the report says in part.

The MPSC provided these recommendations to improve response to future incidents:

  • Revisiting the timeline and process for which the utilities obtain mutual assistance.
  • Improving the methods by which utilities convey estimated service restoration times to customers.
  • Increased implementation of distribution automation to mitigate the scope of future outages.
  • Commitment to routine vegetation management cycles.
  • Implementation of territory wide programs to address hazardous trees outside of the utilities defined right of way.
  • Revisiting customer service quality credits to increase utilization by customer.
  • Increasing the call capacity at service centers for reports of wire downs and outages.
  • Increasing the number of trained wire down guards on utilities’ staff to help protect the public during events such as ice storms.

The Lansing Board of Water & Light, a municipal utility not regulated by the PSC, faced widespread criticism of how it handled outages that affected about 40,000 of its customers.

Inside Photos of the December 2013 ice storm

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