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Consumers Energy reports progress on outage response after last summer's severe storms

 A Consumers Energy utility employee in the field
Consumers Energy
A Consumers Energy utility employee in the field

Consumers Energy says it's made a lot of progress since last August 10 and 11, when back-to-back storms left several hundred thousands of its customers without power -- many for days.

Consumers Restoration Manager Scott McPhail said after a recent storm with 60 mph+ winds a few weeks ago, nearly all 90,000 customers affected had power back within 24 hours.

He said that's in part due to computer modeling done with advanced machine learning, to predict the path and impact of storms in advance.

"We knew where it was going to hit, we had a sense of how many customers were going to be hit, and so we mobilized crews, equipment and other resources to be in those locations," McPhail said.

Consumers Energy has also stepped up its tree-trimming program, to prevent tree limbs from falling on lines during severe storms.

McPhail said historically, the utility had to estimate the location of downed lines based on customer calls of lost power. Workers had to physically walk along lines to find the damage. Now, the storm response has been accelerated due to the installation of time-saving line sensors.

"It senses and knows automatically, the fault happened exactly 1.3 miles from this location, go right there, that's where it's broken," McPhail said.

In all, a million people in the state lost power in the August 2021 storms. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) began a review afterwards to analyze utilities' response and determine regulatory changes that are needed. That review is ongoing.

MPSC Chairman Dan Scripps issued this statement:

While we’ve had some serious weather this summer, overall we haven’t seen the same intensity of storm activity that the Lower Peninsula experienced in 2021. This has allowed Michigan utilities more opportunity to continue with their accelerated tree trimming and grid hardening efforts, as well as operational improvements that have led to faster response times. We’ve been encouraged by the added reliability and resilience in the areas where these activities have taken place. But we also know there’s more work to do, and we will continue to prioritize investments that address the backlog in distribution maintenance in order to continue to improve reliability for Michigan utility customers.”

Disclosure: Consumers Energy is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

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Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.