State regulators say they won't bargain under "threat of blackouts," but their complaint only highlights how the power is shifting.
The Michigan Public Service Commission is...
dialogue going for people to be really ready. All utilities have contingency plans for how the system is going to protect itself and we're going to protect our system when there are disturbances. ...
What we want to do is separate the fact from the fiction about what do these things really mean? What can you do to prepare for this? Are there some things that the city's emergency response should include? We've got to make sure that places where new technology has brought things like kidney dialysis into the home, that people understand that the electricity system is not 100 percent reliable. ...
Do you communicate to customers with medical needs that they need back-up generators?
What the medical community tells us is that none of this is permitted to be done in the home unless there is backup power supply. ... [But] we know that some of our customers have backup batteries that have never, ever been checked. They're probably not going to work. So it's that kind of message: "Today would be a good day to check your batteries." ...
Do you keep a list of customers with home medical equipment?
Yes, our customer information system is supposed to have that kind of information. That's another good example of something that I think we want to make sure the medical community is helping us keep those records up to date. It's just a good wakeup call, a reminder for us ... . New technology gives us the ability to do broadcast messages to people that are on special needs lists like that, so I want us to have good information systems and up-to-date information. Again, that's a good point.
How have you been disseminating these "check your battery" reminders?
We will mail to everybody, and we will probably do a good deal of press advertising in addition to that, but I think all of these things are done one heck of a lot better if you engage the part of the community that really knows. The healthcare industry probably has a much better sense of who these people are, what their particular needs are, and how to best communicate with them.
What government officials or agencies have you been working with?
I work for the mayor and the city council. We had a good session with the city council to kind of kick off this reliability conversation. They had some good contributions. I think they're going to help us with getting the word out. There are a number of city departments that I can call on to be of help here. A good example: The city runs the transportation system. ... We need to get well-coordinated with traffic signal electricians when we are thinking about rolling blackouts so we can get traffic signals restored very quickly. Again, that's just a preparation that I need to have our smart people talk with their smart people and figure out how we're going to coordinate that ... .
[We're not really] expecting blackouts. We think this is a good opportunity,