DTE outage map caused unusual confusion, Ann Arbor official says

ANN ARBOR, MI – DTE Energy has received quite a bit of criticism for recent extended power outages that affected hundreds of thousands of people, and that includes many complaints in Ann Arbor about DTE’s new outage map.

It’s flawed, inaccurate and caused confusion after the Feb. 22 ice storm left many residents without power for days, said D-4th Ward City Councilman Jen Eyer.

“We expect better from DTE when it comes to a winter storm where people are freezing in their homes,” she said.

She and city manager Milton Dohoney are now planning a meeting with DTE officials to discuss the concerns.

There have been widespread issues with DTE’s new map displaying incorrect outage states, Eyer said, noting that she received reports from some residents about DTE marking their blocks or neighborhoods as power restored when they weren’t and residents experiencing outages again had to report.

DTE’s automated text and email alerts to customers also conflicted in many cases with the outage status in people’s homes or what the map showed, Eyer said.

“The level of community confusion based on DTE’s communications was just off the charts,” she said, noting that many were unsure when power would return.

An extension cord runs from a neighbor’s house to Grant Alpert’s house to power his pump in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Alpert’s service line was damaged by an ice storm in the early hours of Thursday, February 23, and an electrician advised him to turn off the main breaker until the line is repaired.Jacob Hamilton | MLive.com

While DTE announced it will send $35 credits to customers who were without power for 96 hours, it’s still unclear to some whether they qualify in cases where DTE marked power restored earlier than it actually was, Eyer said .

DTE did not respond to a request for comment from MLive/The Ann Arbor News, although on its website it describes its disturbance map as newly improved, noting that it allows people to search by address and drill down to find information on specific locations, with clickable icons to view fault numbers.

DTE rolled out a YouTube video on Feb. 5 explaining how to use the card.

“DTE’s new enhanced fault map provides an updated user experience, making it easier to get accurate and timely information at your fingertips,” it states. “You’ll notice a simplified look so users can quickly get to the information they need.”

By clicking the menu button, users can report faults and power line failures and check the fault status.

By clicking an information icon, users can toggle to view outages by zip code or state.

As of Friday afternoon, March 3, the map showed 223 DTE customers in Washtenaw County were without power, representing 0.13% of customers. More than 2,000 other customers were still without power in the rest of DTE’s southeastern Michigan service area, the map showed.

‘Absolutely Unacceptable’: Washtenaw County Leaders Destroy DTE Energy, Consumers After Ice Storm

Some residents have taken to social media to criticize the new map, pointing out that users can’t see a broad picture of the geographic boundaries of disturbances, but small icons with disturbance numbers for general areas are now displayed. Some speculated that this is intentional to prevent people from taking screenshots that more clearly illustrate the expanse of glitches.

Eyer said she communicated with DTE during the outage and shared examples of concerned residents DTE did not have their outage status correct.

She put out a call on Nextdoor for more people to share their stories and received 140 responses from residents expressing concerns about lack of information or misinformation from DTE, including neighborhoods marked as power restored while still without power.

“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this in our community before,” Eyer said of the mass confusion.

“You should be able to look up your address and get good information,” she said. “That’s what’s really concerning is that so many people felt like they had to reapply because their entire neighborhood was wrongly marked as resolved.”

A week after the storm, some Washtenaw County residents are still without power

A fallen tree branch and downed power line in Grant Alpert’s backyard in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Nearly a week after the storm that caused the damage, Alpert says he was unable to get DTE Energy to repair the damaged line.Jacob Hamilton | MLive.com

DTE critics have also raised concerns about the for-profit utility, in a recent quarterly call with shareholders, outlining plans to cut operating and maintenance costs this year by deferring maintenance work, delaying hiring, reducing the workforce of contractors and limit overtime.

That has some proponents of forming a public electric utility that reiterates calls to do away with DTE in Ann Arbor.

Is it time for public power in Ann Arbor? Group pleads after the last breakdown

In response to concerns about budget cuts, DTE said last week that because the company has invested more heavily in maintenance in 2022, the company may postpone non-critical maintenance work this year and move work forward to 2024.

The cost-cutting measures are one-off and maintenance deferrals do not include critical reliability programs such as tree pruning, according to DTE.

City Councilwoman Dharma Akmon, D-4th Ward, said Thursday she was shocked that some residents still had no power more than a week after the outage.

In a post on Twitter on Friday, Councilor Ayesha Ghazi Edwin, D-3rd Ward, said she was contacted on day nine about an elderly resident without power, with another winter storm on the way. She encouraged residents who still have no power to email city officials at citycouncil@a2gov.org.

“All #a2council members and our mayor want to know if you are still out of power and help you turn it back on,” she wrote.


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