Improvements Needed After Outages, State Senators Say

State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) calls himself fortunate, even though he was without power for five days.

"I was fortunate I had Consumers," said Jones. "I thought they did a great job. They brought in crews from 13 different states and they got power restored. Board of Water and Light's had a lot of trouble."

Jones says he's not being critical of the workers and linemen working for BWL, which still has approximately 800 customers without power as of Monday night. Rather, he's critical of the utility's planning.

"I think that we need to have a proper view of the Board of Water and Light, see if their rules, see if their planning is outdated," Jones said. "I have to ask: Are there rules that the Board of Water and Light has that perhaps held up things getting done?"

Jones plans to sponsor a bill that would require the Public Service Commission to regulate the Lansing Board of Water and Light, something it hasn't done in more than 100 years.

The PSC regulates what legislators tell it to regulate, said Executive Director Gary Kitts. Currently, that includes investor-owned utilities -- like Consumers Energy and DTE -- and co-op utilities that so choose. Municipal utilities, of which BWL is by far the largest, are not.

BWL isn't run by the city of Lansing, but is accountable to the mayor and the city council, per the city's charter. Mayor Virg Bernero says he's open to PSC regulation, but doesn't think the utility needs an extra layer of regulation.

"I think we'll find there's not a silver bullet" after a storm of these proportions, Bernero said.

But Bernero said he is open to any and all help from residents, lawmakers and anyone else who has a suggestion.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) says she would consider supporting Jones's legislation, but not at this time.

"We will have that discussion on legislation," she said. "I think though the most important place we can spend our energy is getting people back online and that's why we're here today."

Whitmer opened her office to concerned BWL customers Monday, offering to relay information from people without power who couldn't get through to the utility.

"We're just trying to be one additional resource for people," she said. "I just think people want to know that the legislators, their elected officials are listening and that they care."

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