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Lead BWL investigator concerned over utility's 'outage management system'

The Board of Water and Light resumed electricity shutoffs this summer after stopping them early in the pandemic. Now, they're extending a moratorium on water shutoffs until April 15, 2021. It is against state law to shutoff electricity in the winter.
Credit Joe Linstroth

The Lansing Board of Water and Light has released its final report covering numerous changes at the utility since the 2013 ice storm. We discuss what’s in the report with BWL Commissioner David Price and General Michael McDaniel, who led the BWL Community Review Team that explored the utility’s response to the ice storm and which proposed numerous reforms.

For most of the last two years, the capital city’s publicly owned utility, the Lansing Board of Water and Light, has been under the closest scrutiny ever. The community's harsh assessment of the utility's slow response to power outages following an intense ice storm two years ago triggered well over a hundred reforms. Now, almost two full years after the ice storm, the Lansing Board of Water and Light has issued its final report.

The report summarizes reforms involving emergency preparedness, operations, communication and technology. It was released publicly last evening.

Current State speaks with David Price, Chair of the Board that oversees the BWL, and General Michael McDaniel, Chair of the BWL Community Review Team.


Can the community depend on the current BWL outage management system?

PRICE:  Yes. The problem has been fixed. It has been stress tested to beyond the outage that we experienced in the 2013 ice storm and we also have in place a manual redundant system in the event that the outage management system has any kind of failure again, although we don’t expect that. 

MCDANIEL: I’m still not convinced that it’s as robust and has full capability. The performance audit from just last month said that they need to test it more. That’s the same thing we said in our report in May of 2014.  

The second thing is that the backup system is a manual system….Manual means just that. We’re using folks to enter data as a backup system. That’s what we ended up doing during the last blackout in December of 2013. That didn’t work so well. So there are plans in place to build a redundant electronic system as part of a larger system but we’re not there yet and the sooner the better with that. 

The city won’t make changes to the current outage system until 2017?

PRICE:  After we had the internal audit report presented to the board, both the board and management expressed their concern going forward that this is something we’re going to have to address. There will be additional costs.  We don’t know what those will be but it will (have) redundancy built in (and it won’t be) a manual system. It’ll probably replace the OMS with something that’s even better. But we’re confident at this point that if something occurred today, that system will work. Is it the best system available?  Maybe not.

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