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MPSC: 2018 Solidifies Efforts for Safe, Reliable Energy, Telecommunications
Michigan Ag Connection - 01/09/2019

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) in 2018 modernized its infrastructure and regulatory approaches to be able to quickly adapt to changes in Michigan's energy and communications industries.

"This year was an incredibly productive year with significant accomplishments achieved to further the MPSC's mission to ensure safe, reliable, and accessible energy and telecommunications services at reasonable rates," said Sally Talberg, chairman of the MPSC. "Our staff has done an amazing job working with the public and stakeholders on important issues that will impact ratepayers today, tomorrow, and in the future."

The MPSC has issued rulings in 650 cases this past year, enforced customer protections, launched long-term planning for service reliability, set the groundwork for successfully integrating new technology into the electrical grid, and approved more aggressive gas line improvements to replace aging infrastructure. Addressing Michigan's infrastructure needs is critical to public safety, service reliability, and the state's economy.

Key accomplishments by the Commission in 2018:

Customer control: Utility customers are increasingly engaged in how their energy is produced and used. The Commission acted on demand response, increased investments in renewable energy, updated pricing for customer-owned distributed generation, on-bill financing, voluntary green pricing, and expansions of utility programs that help businesses and residents cut their energy waste through insulation, heating and cooling, and other equipment.

Lower customer bills: The Commission moved swiftly to ensure Michigan utility customers would receive the full benefit of the lower corporate income tax reduction under the federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act. Over the past year, utility rates have been reduced by $379.5 million with additional customer refunds totaling $227.8 million.

New technologies and EVs: Michigan's first comprehensive, long-term plans for electric distribution were addressed to examine future investments and options, which is critical to integrating new energy technologies such as electric vehicles, solar, and battery storage. Staff hosted a second EV technical conference, which led to Consumers Energy and DTE Electric filing for special EV pilot programs in their electric rate cases. The Commission is a national regulatory leader by providing guidance on the four important cornerstones of effective EV public policy -- education, impact on the grid, pricing and infrastructure deployment.

Low-income assistance: Through a series of administrative actions, improvements were made in protections for customers, particularly those most in need or at risk from having their utility service disconnected. The Commission ensured improved transparency and consistency in utility disconnection policies during extreme weather; instituted new protections for critical care customers; expanded funding for special rates for low-income utility customers; issued $50 million in grants for low-income energy assistance; conducted an enforcement proceeding to address the improper shutoff of customers and billing rule violations; and approved utility tariffs addressing privacy and access to customer energy consumption data. Staff also launched a stakeholder group on issues affecting low-income customers.

Electric grid resiliency: The Commission reviewed numerous energy infrastructure proposals to ensure the best value to customers. Actions by the MPSC and staff include integrated resource planning, power supply adequacy, performance-based ratemaking, code of conduct and "value-added" services, and updated PURPA methodologies.

Safer gas service: New rules ensure the safety of 10 million Michiganders and increased investments were approved to replace miles of aging cast-iron and bare steel gas distribution lines. Michigan's regulatory approach to modernize its natural gas infrastructure is a model for the nation.

Easier public access: More than 200,000 unique users access the Commission's revamped electronic case filing system, which catalogs 130,000 filings dating to 2000. The MPSC was the first Commission in the country to have online access to case dockets and this year's update improve the user experience. Our open and transparent meetings were made more accessible with the deployment of audio visual upgrades for video recording, livestreaming, and stakeholders can participate remotely in events hosted at the MPSC's offices.

Broadband expansion, telecommunications: The Commission provided technical support to Governor Snyder's Michigan Consortium on Advanced Networks, which released in August a bold roadmap for expanding broadband in the state. The MPSC also implemented provisions of Act 51 of 2018 to review costs of next generation 9-1-1 systems, and coordinated with the federal government and other partners to update the Lifeline low-income program to cover broadband and maintain bill credits that are key to making sure low-income Michiganders have the same access as everyone else to school, health, employment, and vital services.

Cybersecurity protections: Protections were adopted to formalize processes for electric utilities -- both investor-owned and electric cooperatives -- to assess and report to the Commission annually on their cybersecurity efforts. The rules also provide protocols for reporting cyber breaches or events to the Commission.

New power plants, investments to replace coal-fired generation: The Commission reviewed numerous energy infrastructure proposals to ensure they provide the best value to customers. In April, a Certificate of Need was approved for DTE Energy Co.'s natural gas plant in southeast Michigan. The Commission also monitored the construction of the Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp.'s natural gas units in the Upper Peninsula that are expected to go into service in 2019, adding reliability to the U.P. grid. Proposals by DTE and Consumers Energy to add over 1,400 MW of Michigan-based, renewable energy are being reviewed. The Commission approved the expansion of energy waste reduction programs that defer or displace costly infrastructure and cut emissions in the power sector.

"These initiatives are not one-year endeavors with a known endpoint," Talberg said. "Key to successfully accomplishing all that the Commission did in 2018 was the engagement we had from a wide range of interested stakeholders."

Looking ahead to 2019, the Commission will consider additional integrated resource plans, decide major issues in several rate cases, determine updates to standards for generators connecting to the electric grid, and implement new rules.

"We look forward to working with a new Administration and Legislature to ensure safe, reliable, affordable, and environmentally protective regulatory policies," Talberg added.

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