MichMash: DTE Energy faces scrutiny over power outage response time

In the midst of a massive ice storm, Bridge Detroit’s Jena Brooker explains the history of DTE’s rate increase request and their general performance and responses when facing power outages.

A fallen tree limb with a single band of red caution tape around it leans precariously against a power line, overhanging a street.

A fallen tree limb with a single band of red caution tape around it leans precariously against a power line in Dearborn, Mich.

In the midst of a massive ice storm, Bridge Detroit’s Jena Brooker joins MichMash host Cheyna Roth to explain the history of DTE Energy’s rate increase request and their general performance and responses when facing power outages.

In this episode:

  • DTE’s history of asking for rate increases
  • Where Michigan ranks among the other states across the country in days of power outage and responsiveness
  • The compounded effect climate change can have on Detroiters and their use of energy

Subscribe to MichMash on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, NPR.org or wherever you get your podcasts.

On Feb. 22, Michigan was hit by an historic ice storm. As a result, more than 200,000 customers were left without power. It took many of those customers up to five days to have their power restored. Considering the slowness in which DTE Energy had brought back power to Michiganders, Bridge Detroit’s Jena Brooker dove deep into the history of the power provider’s rate increase request as well as where their responsiveness stacks up in comparison to the rest of the country.

Rate increases

Early in February, DTE submitted a request to the Michigan Public Service Commission asking to increase their rate to 14 percent. Brooker shares that DTE’s projections show a decrease in power usage, which the MPSC has disputed.

“DTE is saying that they are getting less revenue. So, they want more money for their everyday operations… and it seems like except a few years during COVID, DTE has filed for a rate increase every year,” says Brooker. “In some ways it’s not surprising that they would file this given that ninety percent of their last requests were denied in November.”

According to Outlier Media and ProPublica, since 2010 DTE has been granted billions of dollars worth of rate increases. Meanwhile DTE has some of the most frequent and longest lasting power outages in the country. Brooker shares that there are many Michiganders that are frustrated.

“It’s very real for Michigan residents that they are paying some of the highest rates in the area and DTE is asking for another rate increase while residents are suffering from these long lasting and frequent outages.”

These recent outages are adding to the recent history of DTE’s response during storms and other natural disasters. Last summer there was a storm that left 500,000 without power for several days which Brooker says is a “normal occurrence” for residents. Therefore, the MPSC ordered an audit of DTE and Consumers Energy. They currently don’t have any findings and there is no timeline as to when one would be released.

Political contributions

The history of Michigan Legislature and DTE adds to the power dynamic. Brooker went into detail about how that can cause influence.

“There was a study that [showed] 138 out of 148 of members of the legislature receive money from DTE,” she says.

Energy advocates say there is evidence of that influencing legislatures.

There is no evidence of such, but signs point to a legislative bill that would have credited homeowners during outages that did not pass. Attorney General Dana Nessel has even asked for transparency of donations and their influence on politicians whether indirectly or directly.

Brooker also wrote about the recent weather patterns that Detroit is receiving and its connection to climate change. She says there may be some intersect with the power outages that residents have been experiencing.

“Detroit is expected to get a lot heavier rainfall which will result in severe flooding, and we’re expected to get more extreme heat and it’s going to be more low income and residents of color that’s going to be the most impacted by this… and the impact we will see with the heatwave tie in with DTE. One research study suggests that a combined heatwave and blackout could be more fatal than hurricane Katrina.”

The burning of coal for electricity is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, Brooker adds, which makes climate and our use of energy directly linked.

There are a lot of organizations that are trying to establish central hubs around the city of energy efficiency to help residents. DTE has a plan for renewable energy as well as energy efficiency programs to help keep bills lower for residents. Brooker says that many believe this timeline is not fast enough.

With heatwaves being an increasing threat, power outages being affected by natural weather obstructions and there being an effect from the crops to the consumer, Roth asked Brooker if legislation has any plans on making a change.

“Governor Whitmer has committed the state of Michigan to carbon neutrality by 2050, but some say this isn’t fast enough,” Brooker says.


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  • Hernz Laguerre
    Hernz Laguerre Jr. is a Multimedia Journalist at 101.9 WDET. He is one of the co-host for "Detroit Evening Report," one of the weekend anchors for "Weekend Edition," the producer for our political podcast, "MichMash," and reports on arts, culture and politics.