Bernero Calls BWL Review an 'Unprecedented' Level of Self-Assessment

By: Josh Sidorowicz Email
By: Josh Sidorowicz Email

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero Tuesday called upon a retired general and homeland security expert to lead the way on an outside independent investigation into Lansing Board of Water and Light's ice storm response.

The announcement comes after numerous customers and public officials alike in recent weeks have called for an investigation in the wake of BWL's lack of communication and in some cases slow response to restore power following last month's ice storm.

On the heels of Mayor Bernero's announcement Tuesday, the Michigan Public Service Commission also said it would be conducting its own review of Consumers Energy and DTE.

"It's really an unprecedented response," Bernero said. "It's an unprecedented level of self-assessment and review and it's all geared toward a better, stronger BWL."

Mayor Bernero said the intent of the investigation is not to point fingers or place blame on any one individual.

"This is what accountability looks like," he said. "Accountability is not a rush to judgement, and what I have heard up to this point has been--in many cases--a rush to judgement."

The investigation, which will be led by Retired Brigadier General Michael C.H. McDaniel, a Cooley Law School professor and homeland security expert, will examine aspects ranging from BWL's preparation prior to the storm, to how the utility handled communication throughout.

The review is expected to be completed within the next 90 to 100 days, according to Bernero.

Bernero has also requested the Michigan Public Service Commission, which does not have authority over BWL, have the final review of both the outside community review and the utility's own internal review. He said it was a request made to avoid any questions or concerns over credibility of the report.

"Just to make sure.. these are people (MPSC) who don't answer to me in any way," he said. "I think this should send a clear signal to people: we want an honest assessment."

Commission spokeswoman Judy Palnau said the MPSC has agreed to the mayor's request and plans to have staff review the reports to issue their own assessments to BWL.

"Michigan law does allow the commission to assist a municipality if they are asking for help," she said.

Palnau said it is rare for a municipality to make such a request, but it is one that will be fulfilled for free.

The investigations into Consumers Energy and DTE are not rare, and usually occur after a widepread and prolonged power outage like the one experienced last month.

Palnau said it is not uncommon for the commission to review and issue recommendations every four or five years, and the recommendations from those types of investigations can and often have led to changes in how utilities operate, especially during a crisis.

"The commission does regulate those utilities so they are expected to implement (the recommendations) and it's something the commission keeps a close eye on."

Recommendations can range from directing utilities to spend more on tree trimming, to implementing more capable means of communicating with customers.

The commission can make recommendations to BWL, but the utility would not be required to comply, according to Palnau.


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