'Loud and clear'

By Andy Balaskovitz
Board of Water and Light General Manager J. Peter Lark talking to reporters today in Delta Township. Allan I. Ross/City Pulse

BWL GM: We hear customers’ complaints “loud and clear,” prioritizing new communication and smart-grid system

Friday, Dec. 27 — Lansing Board of Water and Light General Manager J. Peter Lark said today that the utility is cognizant of customers’ communication complaints and that it’s developing new technology to handle them better in the future.

“Customers have made it loud and clear that they would like to be able to communicate with BWL in a better way than they are,” Lark said today at the Willow Highway/Elmwood Road intersection in Delta Township, where BWL crews were working to restore power after Sunday’s ice storm.

“It’s a complicated, expensive system,” he said of the utility’s plans.

Lark said BWL made a decision “several months ago” to invest in new software that could provide up-to-date maps with detailed information about outages. The utility worked with a consultant to issue a Request for Proposals. A company has not yet been selected. The upgrade will cost “millions of dollars,” he said, but could not give cost specifics.

That will be coupled with a “smart grid” system in which people can connect directly with the utility when they have an outage, he said.

“It will take years, but we’d like to roll out part of the smart grid in the next year,” he said.

BWL spokesman Steve Serkaian said earlier today: “Obviously we are going to move that process (of getting a new system in place) to the front of the line. We’ve heard our customers loud and clear. We want to be able to communicate more effectively.”

BWL’s Facebook page was pummeled in recent days by customers complaining that the company is unresponsive and details about outages are incomplete. The State Journal reported about a “frustrated” Michigan State University adjunct professor who created a Google map for people to report outages. More than 600 people had contributed by 5 p.m. Thursday, the Journal reported.

As of 5 a.m. today, BWL reported that about 2,600 — or less than 3 percent — of its customers were still without power, down by about 400 from seven hours earlier. On Sunday, roughly 40 percent of BWL customers were without power. Lark said the utility is working at an “optimal” level of line crews.

“They have every right to feel frustrated,” he said of customers. “We want to get through to all of them just as badly. I think BWL is doing a job it can be very proud of.”