Does DTE Energy knowingly report power outages on the dashboard?

DETROIT – DTE Energy, Michigan’s largest energy supplier, knowingly reports the number of power outages on its widely used dashboard, according to a recent interview with a company executive.

Speaking to Eli Newman of Detroit NPR station WDET after this latest round of winter weather, the utility’s director of digital experience said the numbers aren’t consistent between the company’s outage dashboard, or “splash page,” and the recently released fault map.

The dashboard only counts meters that are off. The map counts those same meters and adds other factors such as phone calls and field reports, which DTE told Local 4/ClickOnDetroit is accurate in many cases, despite exceeding the confirmed outdoor meter count.

“Essentially, though, there’s an assumption that there are meters that aren’t connecting to the system because whatever is causing the failure is preventing the connection,” Newman said in the interview taped Friday. “Perhaps it is more correct to say that there are at least as many failures?”

“We’re not getting 100 percent of the meters back, so you’re right,” said Jackie Robinson, director of digital experience at DTE Energy. “On that splash page that might be a little low and the map is too big, right?”

But according to utility analysts, the numbers are more than a little low. On Sunday morning, DTE reported that just over 62,000 customers were without power. However, the widely used utility monitoring service showed more than 143,000.

Robinson tried to explain the differences.

“For example, if someone looks at the map and looks at their zip code, and it says there are maybe 10,000 outages, is that generally a guess?” Newman said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a gamble,” Robinson said. “It’s a really educated guess. It’s a prediction.”

“The information system that powers the map takes information from customer calls, field reports and customer electricity meters and feeds it into an algorithm to predict a fault area,” DTE spokesperson Cindy Hecht said in a statement on Sunday. “We show the predicted disturbances on the map. For example, if several of your neighbors report a fault and some electricity meters on the circuit report being off, the fault management system can estimate that the entire circuit may be down.

“In many cases this is correct, but when we get a very large number of outages, the algorithm can overestimate outages in a specific geographic area. We realize this can cause confusion and are working to resolve the discrepancy by further calibrating the system. The breakdown center data (i.e. the total number of customers out of service) comes directly from the meters and is the most accurate count of the total number of customers without power.”

Both analysts, such as and the Michigan Public Service Commission, which oversees DTE, have told the utility that the system numbers do not match. In Michigan, outages must be reported, but there is no requirement on how to do so.

The disclosure and explanation of the underreporting because there has been more supervision on the reliability of DTE over the course of two winter storm systems in the past 10 days. The blackout left hundreds of thousands of people without power, in some cases for more than a week.

State lawmakers have called for hearings to be held on how to make the utility more reliable, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office is in talks about those hearings, a spokesman said.

There have also been calls for more information at the congressional level, with both Representatives Elissa Slotkin and Rashida Tlaib taking to Twitter asking for answers.

READ: Michigan legislature would make DTE consumers pay customers for every hour of power outage

“To pay some of the highest rates in the country[and]still have this kind of instability puts lives at risk,” wrote Tlaib, who later advocated making the utility a government-controlled company. “It’s time to change who manages these critical services.”

Slotkin said just before the second storm hit that she requested a briefing on the power problems going back beyond the most recent storms.

“I’ve scheduled a briefing next week on Michigan’s power issues, and now we have two major storms to discuss, as well as the long-term issues behind them,” Slotkin said.

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