Lark: BWL Will Implement All Recommendations

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Lansing, Mich. (WILX) The general manager of the Lansing Board of Water and Light says he plans to implement more than 100 recommendations from two review boards, even if it comes at a cost to consumers.

J. Peter Lark responded to reports from a Community Response Team and the Michigan Public Service Commission Tuesday night at a meeting of the BWL Board of Commissioners.

"Compared to the BWL of December 2013, we are not the same company," Lark told the board in a prepared statement. "We are a stronger and better BWL and we are a BWL that needs to be better still."

The past six months have been difficult, Lark conceded, for the utility and consumers alike. The general manager, for one, said he was disappointed in his utility's response to a storm that left some people without power for nearly two weeks.

Complaints from BWL's response yielded a review team, commissioned by Mayor Virg Bernero, to review the utility's performance. The MPSC also evaluated BWL and compared it to other local utilities.

"Tonight I can say with absolute confidence that BWL is an improved utility," Lark said. "When the next major storm and outage event happens, and it will happen again, we must all be confident that the BWL's response will be significantly improved."

Some of the recommendations have already been put in place, Lark said, including an improved Outage Management System, capable of handling 35,000 calls an hour.

During the December ice storm, the OMS crashed due to a heavy volume of calls.

More tree trimming, a social media specialist, an emergency manager and a mast repair program are among the things Lark says sprung from the reviews.

"The ball is in our court and we are not going to drop it," he said. "Those that learn from their mistakes and improve become stronger. I pledge to our customers that the BWL has learned."

BWL Commissioner Dennis Louney, who was at times critical of the utility's response to criticism, praised Lark's report Tuesday.

"We had a hard time, I think, initially diagnosing what the problems were and admitting that it was our problem," he said. "And moving forward, I think we've said this is where we made mistakes and we're not going to make those again.

"Certainly we deserved a lot of the fire that happened, but I think you learn from your mistakes," he said. "That's the sign of us being a good utility that we're going to move forward and we're going to implement these."

It will, however, cost money to make so many changes. Lark threw out $4.5 million as a low ballpark estimate.

Lark will push for a rate increase, which has to be approved by the board of commissioners. It would be the first increase at the BWL in two years, he said, and money well spent, though Lark said the utility will have to be "creative" with its numbers.

In its budget for the 2015 fiscal year, the board will propose a rate increase of $4 a month.

The changes can't happen all at once, Lark said, and even if they are all fulfilled, he says there isn't necessarily an end to the reform process.

"I would like to tell you we're all the way there, but we're not," he said. "With each passing year, there are new things that have to be done. And I would expect this is a process that will never be completed. We will always be trying to be a better utility."