Commission probes DTE outages, line death

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

The Michigan Public Service Commission has launched an investigation into DTE Electric Co.’s recent weather-related outages and circumstances around the death of a Detroit woman who came in contact with a downed electric line, officials said Thursday.

A storm with winds gusting near 70 miles per hour hit southeast Michigan on May 4, downing power lines and cutting electricity to more than 300,000 DTE Electric customers, leaving some without power for several days.

The commission, in its order, says it’s worried that parts of DTE’s system are unable to provide safe and reliable service during large storms, as is required by law.

The commission is seeking answers on how the storm impacted DTE’s electrical distribution system, what the company did to prepare for and respond to the storm, whether changes should be made to reduce the potential for death, injury and widespread power outages, and whether system maintenance — or lack thereof — contributes to safety hazards and problems, officials said.

“The commission is concerned about repeated power interruptions experienced by DTE Electric,” said Sally Talberg, chairman of the commission, in a statement. “We’re confident this investigation will not only help to identify the causes of the outages but also offer solutions that will limit the frequency and avoid future tragic incidents like the one in Detroit earlier this month.”

The woman’s body was discovered in an alley on East State Fair on the city’s east side on May 7. Utility crews found the body after arriving at the site for repairs after the windstorm days prior.

In a statement released to The Detroit News, DTE said it would work with the commission to address the questions raised in Thursday’s order regarding its response to the wind storm. DTE also noted work is underway to upgrade its infrastructure.

“We are saddened by the tragic death of a customer who came into contact with a live wire following the storm and are taking steps to further emphasize public safety and educate our customers about the dangers of downed wires,” the statement reads.

“DTE also is in the midst of a long-term infrastructure upgrade program that includes hardening the energy grid and trimming trees to enhanced specifications to limit the impact of Michigan’s severe weather. We are committed to improving reliability and safety while minimizing the financial impact of these investments on our customers.”

DTE could face a fine and penalties if it’s found the company failed to comply with electric service safety regulations.

DTE has been ordered to file its safety and incident report by June 29. The commission will have until Aug. 10 to review it and file a response.

Officials said the public also can file comments on the reports by mail to Executive Secretary, Michigan Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 30221, Lansing, MI 48909, or by email to no later than 5 p.m. Sept. 7.