By early Monday morning, Michigan’s two biggest utilities — DTE and Consumers — had restored power to hundreds of thousands of customers who had lost it after Wednesday’s ice storm.
But as the outages dwindled, with more than 90,000 Michiganders still in the dark at about 7 a.m., there was a new problem: more bad weather. By noon, the total tally of people without power in Michigan began to creep up again, not go down, by more than 5,000.
DTE said that of its 63,500 customers without power, about half are lost power during the first storm, and the other half since then from strong wind and now, a second storm. Tuesday is the new target to restore power to all but a few thousand customers
It was unclear how new disruptions would affect wait times for power restoration and whether the power company would prioritize people who had been waiting several days, but DTE had been saying it was tried to target areas the posed safety risks first as well as repairs that would get electricity to the most amount of people with the least amount of effort.
Monday’s forecast calls for freezing temperatures, freezing rain, and sleet, as well as wind gusts 30-45 mph. It’s creating more challenges for power companies, which are already under fire, and expected to experience a barrage of criticism and questions this week about power reliability and their energy cost.
“Crews will continue working around the clock to restore power to all remaining customers who experienced an outage during the storm,” DTE said early Monday, warning about the new weather forecast. “We know power interruptions are difficult for our customers; that’s why DTE is investing over $1 billion per year in electric infrastructure upgrades.”
More:Michigan power outage map: How to check your status
More:How long does food stay good in refrigerator without power? What to know
During this mass power outage, utility executives seemed to anticipate and tried to placate criticism by going out of their way to hold more news conferences and events to quell concerns. They told people they cared, and were doing what they could to fix the problem quickly.
“We’re grateful to people in the communities we serve for their patience and understanding these last few days,” Norm Kapala, a Consumers Energy executive said Sunday. “We look forward to getting the lights back on for every single customer.”
Utility executives also delivered Sunday on their promise to restore power to at least 95% of all their customers.
Reliability in question
But, the state’s public utilities — which are regulated — still risk the wrath of customers, lawmakers and other elected officials who are increasingly dissatisfied with the response: It’s not our fault, it was Mother Nature.
The power companies also face increasing questions about the reliability of the state’s power grid despite spending billions to upgrade it, especially as businesses and residents make increasing investments in an all-electric future and rely on technology.
How do automakers make the case for electric vehicles, if with days-long power outages customers are stranded? How do homes work, when appliances and devices powered by electricity and interconnected by the internet isn’t functioning?
And do mass outages point to greater vulnerabilities to terrorism and national security?
While the storm ravaged much of the Midwest, Michigan bore the brunt of the power blackouts.
DTE Energy President and CEO Jerry Norcia said that’s because Michigan got hit with more ice than other states.
“Over the last several years, across the country, we’ve seen more and more weather patterns that are much more violent, and are really causing major disruptions and major damage on grids all across this country,” he said on Friday. “We are not alone in this, but we are acting, we are moving.”
Since Wednesday, nearly 5,800 workers, many from other states, toiled through the night in long shifts. They endured the freezing cold, rain, wind, snow, and even bright weekend sun, which likely helped speed repairs.
They faced life-threatening situations: nests of downed trees and limbs and sparking and hissing powerlines.
And they dealt with, executives said, frustrated customers who had no lights and heat for days, and some of whom called in false reports of downed wires in hopes of getting faster repairs. They were cussed out, and they encountered, believe it or not, vicious, biting dogs.
Now, in addition to the expense of repairs, the utilities will have to pay out customer credits, and likely, increased scrutiny of future rate increases, and questions about whether the $25 credits to customers who lost power, and food, and were forced to seek refuge with relatives and hotels, are enough.
According to casinobonusca.com — a website that reviews a variety of data, particularly for the Canadian gambling market — the odds of a power outage is relatively high and Michigan is among the top five states most likely to experience a blackout in the past decade.
Only Maine, New Hampshire and Hawaii were worse. Among the top five, Michigan was followed by West Virginia.
“The rise of extreme weather conditions due to climate change as well as run-down power grids are the leading causes for power outages all over the United States,” the analysis concluded. “Depending on the situation, losing power can become very dangerous. Especially the elderly and children are affected if the heating or cooling fails for too long.”
In Michigan, utility customers who experience lengthy or frequent service outages are eligible for a credit on their electric bill. Residential customers who qualify can get $25 on their monthly customer charge, according to the Michigan Public Service Commission.
DTE and Consumers Energy offer electronic forms for credit that can be submitted online.
Eligibility conditions: An outage of more than 120 hours under catastrophic conditions, an event that results in an official state of emergency, or an event that results in an interruption of 10% or more of the utility’s customers. Or an outage of more than 16 hours under non-catastrophic conditions. Or eight or more outages in 12 months.
But, as with other outages, some say that’s not enough — and the $25 barely covers their costs.
And others point out that in a digital world, electricity is essential, not just for lights, refrigeration, heat and hot water, and commerce and everyday communication in which people want instant information and responses. Even a day, in some cases, is too long.
As their power comes on, grateful Michiganders have been taking to their newly restored access to social media to share their glee, posting photos of their overhead lights — finally. But those who don’t yet have power may have to wait a little longer.
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or email@example.com.