By JEFF KAROUB
LANSING AP) – The Lansing Board of Water and Light “fell short” in its duties to customers following a December ice storm, state utility regulators said in a review released Friday that also makes 30 recommendations to improve service.
The Michigan Public Service Commission reviewed both internal and independent reports written after the Dec. 21-22 storm, which led to power outages for 40,000 of the utility’s customers – some for up to 11 days. The company faced widespread public criticism for long telephone wait times and its overall communication efforts.
The commission, which doesn’t regulate municipally owned utilities but accepted Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s request for its assistance, agreed with findings and recommendations of the independent Community Review Team report released this month, which said the power company had inadequate emergency procedures in place.
The power company and its board “fell short in their duties to their customers to be prepared for a catastrophic or extreme weather event and had not incorporated training, emergency exercises or testing its emergency operations plan it its overall strategic planning for such an event,” the commission’s review says.
The public service commission’s recommendations include creating a committee to track implementation and a transparent process for reporting progress. The review said such a committee is important for accountability, because the utility’s own 54 actions “contain numerous aspiring phrases” such as “plan to,” “work to,” and “will aggressively pursue.”
The commission also suggests the utility continue offering a billing credit for catastrophic conditions and “provide internal incentive to quickly address large scale outages and potentially reduce response and restoration times,” and develop annual reliability reports.
Additionally, the commission recommends the company create a single customer phone line for all customer inquiries. During the storm, it said, customers were expected to know which of two numbers should be used for reporting outages or for downed power lines.
Regulators also would like to see Bernero appoint members to the utility’s board with expertise related to its internal duties, and expand emergency training to include board members.
Board of Water and Light General Manager J. Peter Lark said in a statement that the utility is “committed to thoroughly review and consider each and every” recommendation and have “begun implementing many of the improvements” the commission has outlined. He added that the power company is “better prepared to handle the next major storm.”