Were companies prepared for storm outages? - WNEM TV 5


Were companies prepared for storm outages?

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It's been more than a month since the Christmas week storm that left tens of thousands of Mid-Michigan residents in the dark and some customers are still cleaning up the mess left behind.

So were companies prepared for the outages? And did they learn any lessons from this historic storm?

Douglas Thomas spent Christmas week in the dark. His Grand Blanc house lost power during the December ice storm and it didn't come back for six days.

"It's not a comfortable feeling you can't sleep you never know when it's going to come back on or what you should do," says Thomas.

Thomas is still cleaning up the mess caused by, what he believes, was an excessively long power outage. No heat, no refrigerator, no place to recharge electronic devices.

"It was 40 degrees in our house so we went to a motel. While we were at the motel we had a pipe freeze and break destroying our basement," continued Thomas.

When he returned home, he was greeted by a flooded basement filled up with ten inches of water. He estimates thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Thomas says the worst part of walking through his basement is looking at his antique collectables and decades of memories that are now destroyed.

TV5 met resident after resident waiting day after day for the lights and power to come back on. They want to know how this could have happened and why the outage wasn't more quickly restored.

We traveled to Lansing where the Michigan Public Service Commission is conducting an investigation on how Consumers Energy and DTE Energy responded to the power outages. This is the agency that regulates the power companies in our state.

TV5 asked the tough questions. How many line crews did they have working? How many crews did they call in from out of state? How long did restoration take? Were there any problems that hindered restoration efforts? Those types of things will be looked at very carefully.

Another tough question we had for the MPSC. Why did we see so many out of state license plates working to restore power? Is this becoming more common for us to get help from people out of state?

So how do the puzzle pieces fit together? How do these repair crews get dispatched to our state? Why we so dependent on the imports?

We visited Consumers Energy headquarters in Jackson. The company insists it started preparing for widespread outage days once the forecast signaled an ice storm on the way.

During the December storm Consumers engaged more than 600 line crews from 13 states and the Washington D.C. area.

Here's how consumers broke down some of the numbers

  • 25 percent of the crews were made up of Consumers Energy workers
  • 25 percent were in state contractors
  • 50 percent of the crews were mutual assistance from out of state

Consumers first reached out to nearby states. A group they call the Great Lakes Alliance. Then they called for assistance from other parts of the country.

There were areas in the Midwest like Ohio and Indiana that were also impacted by this storm so it required us to reach out further to the Carolinas and Georgia.

For an event this size to have that many resources in the state for an event like this which is rare just wouldn't be economical or prudent.

Will the power companies be ready next time? Will the power companies pass the test? People like Douglas Thomas will be watching closely. He hopes from the warmth of his home, not a hotel room.

There is still time to voice your concerns over how Consumers and DTE responded to the December power outages.

The MPSC is accepting comments from the public through February 21.

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