News Story

‘All options are on the table,’ including burying power lines, Michigan utility regulator says

MPSC chief Dan Scripps says Michigan’s grid is not performing at the level the public deserves

Dan Scripps, chair of the Michigan Public Service Commission, which regulates state utility companies, said Monday in an interview on WWJ-AM that “all options have to be on the table” after two recent mass power outages in Michigan.

Millions of people in Michigan lost power, between the ice storm of late February and the thundersnow of early March. 

“The most frustrating thing for us is, this isn't new issue,” Scripps said. “We have not had the system or the levels of reliability in the system that customers expect and deserve.”

Listen for yourself: Dan Scripps interview with WWJ-AM

Scripps said that while some strides had been made in reliability, “events in the last two weeks really underscore how much more work there is to do. Clearly the system isn’t performing at the level that people expect and deserve.”

Scripps said the commission is in the midst of an audit of DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, Michigan’s top energy companies, to see what can be done to improve reliability. Scripps mentioned, without prompting, the idea of putting power lines underground.

“After the 2021 storms, we held a series of technical conferences to consider a range of issues including undergrounding of these of these wires,” Scripps said in the interview. “I would expect that we'll see more of that going forward and trying to identify where that's the best solution versus where something else might deliver more bang for the buck.”

Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center, said state regulators share in the blame for Michigan’s persistent power outages.

“Mr. Scripps and the Michigan Public Service Commission are complicit in these power outages because they have approved both the rates and long-term plans that the utilities have proposed,” Hayes told CapCon.

“If the MPSC and the utilities would cease their dangerous and expensive rush to meet net-zero and decarbonization targets and refocus on their primary responsibilities of supplying Michigan residents with low-cost, reliable utility services, Michigan residents could go back to trusting that their lights will come on when they turn on the switch,” Hayes added.

DTE spends $190 million annually trimming trees. Placing power lines underground has been viewed as too expensive.

State lawmakers, such as Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who have called for DTE to go to Lansing to testify, have spoken openly of the need to bury more power lines underground. Scripps’ remarks indicate that regulators are on board.

“All options have to be on the table,” Scripps said. “We’re not in a position right now where we’re meeting the needs and expectations of customers and we’ve got to get better.”

Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., the Michigan Public Service Commission will host a pre-hearing on DTE’s Feb. 2023 rate request.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.