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Is DTE Energy deliberately underreporting power outages on the dashboard?

DETROIT – DTE Energy, Michigan’s largest utility provider, deliberately underreports the number of outages on its widely used dashboard, according to a recent interview with a company executive.

Speaking with Detroit NPR station WDET’s Eli Newman after this latest round of winter weather, the utility’s director of digital experience said the numbers are inconsistent between the company’s outage dashboard, or “splash page,” and the recently released outage map.

The dashboard only counts meters that are out. The map counts the 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 being higher than the confirmed number of outdoor meters.

“Basically, though, there’s an assumption that there are meters that are not connecting to the system, because whatever is causing the outage is preventing the connection from happening,” Newman said in the interview taped Friday. “Perhaps it is more correct to say that there are at least that many power outages?”

“We don’t get 100% of the meters back, so you’re right,” said Jackie Robinson, DTE Energy’s director of digital experience. “On that splash side, it might be a little low and the map too big, right?”

But according to usage 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 monitoring service showed more than 143,000.

Robinson tried to explain the discrepancies.

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

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

“The information system that feeds the map pulls information from customer calls, field reports and customers’ electric meters and feeds it into an algorithm to predict an outage area,” DTE spokeswoman Cindy Hecht said in a statement Sunday. “We show the predicted outages on the map. For example, if several of your neighbors report an outage, and some of the electricity meters on the circuit report that they are out, the outage management system can estimate that the entire circuit may be out.

“In many cases this is accurate, but when we get a very large number of outage events, the algorithm can over-predict outages in a specific geographic area. We recognize that this can create confusion and are working to resolve the discrepancy by calibrating the system further. The data at the outage center (ie total number of customers out) is taken directly from 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 alerted the utility that the systems’ numbers do not match. In Michigan, power outages must be reported, but there are no requirements on how to do it.

The disclosure and explanation of the underreporting comes as there has been increased scrutiny on DTE’s reliability during two winter storm systems in the past 10 days. The outages left hundreds of thousands without power, in some cases for more than a week.

State lawmakers have called for hearings on how to make the utility more reliable, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office has been in talks about those hearings, according to a spokesperson.

There have also been calls for more information at the congressional level, with both Representatives Elissa Slotkin and Rashida Tlaib requesting responses on Twitter.

READ: Michigan Legislature’s bill would make DTE, Consumers pay customers for every hour of outage

“Paying some of the highest rates in the country (and) still having this kind of instability puts lives at risk,” wrote Tlaib, who later advocated turning the utility into a state-controlled company. “It’s time to change who controls these critical services.”

Slotkin said just before the second storm hit, she had requested a briefing on the power problems that date back further than the most recent storms.

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

Copyright 2023 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit – All rights reserved.

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