Michigan PSC Order on Reliability Standards Lets Down Michigan Ratepayers

“DTE and Consumers Energy, which together provide power to a majority of Michigan residents, appear to be aiming for just marginal improvements in grid reliability. Much more is needed for Michigan residents to be safe and secure in their homes with stable access to electricity, a basic necessity,” CUB Executive Director Amy Bandyk wrote in a Detroit News op-ed at the end of last year.

Unfortunately, on March 17, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) failed to rise to the level of what is needed to alleviate the poor service Michiganders have been receiving from their utilities at high price. After nearly two years of engagement with CUB, Attorney General Dana Nessel and other stakeholder groups (as we have chronicled on this blog, see here, here and here, for example), the MPSC made only the most modest of changes to the service quality and reliability standards. Those standards have not been substantively changed since 2004, so this may be a sad missed opportunity to give teeth to our regulations.

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CUB and AG Nessel Call for More Transparency on Utility Political Activities

Source: Google Maps

When you pay your utility bills, you pay for the energy that goes into your home and the infrastructure that carries it there. But many people do not know that your bill payments also may help fund political stances supported by your utility, either directly or indirectly through trade associations.

CUB of Michigan has teamed up with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to shed light on this complicated but important topic by submitting comments in response to a notice of inquiry issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

“Ratepayers across the country may be bearing hundreds of millions of dollars in higher rates in any given year to pay for utilities to support causes and influence policy issues that are not related to the provision of utility service and, in many cases, may be contrary to ratepayers’ interests,” our comments said.

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Keith Cooley Elected President of the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan

The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan, the state’s independent nonprofit residential utility ratepayer advocate, is proud to announce that it has elected Keith Cooley as its next president, replacing Robert Nelson, who recently concluded his three-year term as president and will continue to serve on CUB’s board of directors. Marquette City Commissioner and CUB Secretary Jenn Hill has been elected vice president, and she will continue serving as secretary.

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Consumers Energy to Raise Electric Rates, But By Much Less Than Expected

Consumers Energy’s offices at One Energy Plaza, Jackson. Source. Licensed Under Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0.

 

Just before the holidays, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) issued one of their most notable decisions of 2021: they approved a rate increase for customers of Consumers Energy’s electric utility that was 88% lower than the company initially requested.

That is a truly significant change, and CUB was glad to see that much of the reduction was from cuts that we had proposed in testimony filed jointly with Michigan Environmental Council, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club, as well as cuts proposed by other intervening groups such as the Attorney General. At the same time, on less positive notes, the MPSC also rejected some of our proposals to tie Consumers Energy’s distribution grid spending to clear performance targets so ratepayers have better assurance their money is being spent wisely. In addition, while the rate increase is much lower than it could have been, it is still nonetheless a rate increase, and one that comes at a time when residential rates have been climbing for years despite Consumers Energy customers receiving highly unreliable service compared to the service provided by utilities in the rest of the country.

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CUB Releases Guide for Best Practices To Introduce EVs for Ratepayers

 

Electric vehicles (EVs) seem poised to revolutionize both transportation and electric power, but how widely will their benefits be shared across society? Although automakers have been rolling out more affordable models, EVs have tended to be luxury items that are out of reach of most consumers. In addition, the costs of transitioning the grid and road infrastructure to EVs may fall hardest on these same customers who can least afford EVs.

To help ensure that policies to manage the transition toward EVs are fair and consumer-friendly, the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan has released a report, The ABCs of Michigan EVs: A Policy Guide To Electrify Michigan. The report is one of a series being produced by the other Citizens Utility Boards in the Midwest, representing Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio.

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CUB’s 2021 Utility Performance Report Shows That Michigan Residents and Businesses Pay High Rates for Poor Service

The 2021 Utility Performance Report—the latest entry in our annual series of scorecards that rank Michigan utilities compared to those in the rest of the country—is out now!

Like last year’s report, this year’s edition again finds that Michigan utilities perform worse than average on most measures of reliability of service, affordability of energy and levels of environmental impact. But the 2021 report shows that these trends are either staying the same or getting worse, using numbers updated from last year with 2019 and (when available) 2020 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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Electric Reliability Must Be Improved Cost-Effectively

A question that has come up often after so many Michigan residents lost power in multiple instances this summer is: “why don’t we bury power lines underground?” It seems like a simple solution to a big problem, and burying power lines does indeed improve reliability. But it is also very expensive, and may not be worth the cost when compared to alternatives.

This question is part of a bigger question: How can we determine what is the most cost-effective way to reduce power outages and strengthen the grid? It turns out that the measures to make the utilities accountable for poor service can also help with this question. 5 Lakes Energy Managing Partner (and consultant for CUB) Douglas Jester explained how at Day 2 of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s “Technical Conference on Emergency Preparedness, Distribution Reliability, and Storm Response” (read our blog post about day 1 here).

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Video Available for Michigan PSC Conference on Reliability and Outages

The MPSC held a technical conference on Oct. 22 that provided a diverse range of perspectives on the electric reliability problem in Michigan, and what to do about it.

The conference also included a presentation from CUB of Michigan Executive Director Amy Bandyk, who gave a preview of our upcoming 2021 Utility Performance Report, the latest version of our annual series. The report will be out soon enough, but the basic takeaway is that Michigan utilities continue their trend of poor reliability performance and high electric bills for customers, compared to utilities around the country.

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Michigan Reps, GOP and Dem Alike, Call for Action About Power Outages at Hearing

MPSC Chair Daniel Scripps

The political investigation into Michigan’s problem of frequent power outages and what to do about it ramped up with a state House Energy Committee hearing on Oct. 13 in which representatives from both sides of the aisle voiced dissatisfaction with the job done by Michigan’s investor-owned utilities.

The questions representatives asked of the hearing’s only witness, Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) Chair Daniel Scripps, hit upon the need for new policies that make the utilities accountable for their service performance, as CUB has been advocating in reports, blog posts, interviews, social media and testimony before Michigan regulators.

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The Fix for Michigan’s Power Outage Problem Needs To Be More Ambitious Than What The Utilities Are Offering

Consider: You’re in college and you need to get at least a C- to pass a class you are taking pass/fail. Right now your average grade in the course is an F. Say you do well enough on your final exam to raise that average to a D. Is that progress? Technically, yes. A D is better than an F. But in the scope of things, the end result is the same: you are still failing.

We see a similar situation going on right now with Michigan investor-owned utilities and their plans to invest in the distribution grid and increase electric reliability for customers, a goal that customers are demanding be met after the appalling length and number of outages this past summer. DTE, Consumers Energy and Indiana Michigan Power have all filed these distribution plans, as required by the Michigan Public Service Commission.

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