When Ann Arbor resident Brandon Dimcheff’s power went out at midnight on Wednesday, he didn’t think he would need to pull out his 10-year-old generator. But after a day and a half with no power, Dimcheff’s generator was up and running in hopes of preserving the groceries left in his fridge.
“We were actually sitting in the dark, watching the storm with all the drapes open, and then our power went out,” Dimcheff said. “There wasn’t a big gust of wind or a big bolt of lighting or anything like that. We’re just sitting there, the storms were in the distance, and then they went out.”
More than 830,000 Michigan households found themselves in similar situations as Dimcheff due to the overnight thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. DTE Energy estimates that more than 25% of its service area was affected, making this event the biggest power outage since the March 2017 wind storm that caused the largest power outage in the state’s history.
Resources for those affected
The city of Ann Arbor has opened a relief station at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, 601 W. Stadium Blvd., for those affected. The relief station opened Thursday and will continue to be available over the weekend, Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
“Masks are required,” the city’s update wrote. “Water and light snacks will be provided as well as charging stations for electronic devices.”
Visitors should enter the relief station from the Stadium Boulevard entrance. Parking is available in the staff and visitor parking sections. Bike parking is also available.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has also announced a new Disaster Food Assistance program for those who meet the requirements in Wayne and Washtenaw counties. Residents who have been affected by the recent floods must apply and interview in person between Aug. 12-19.
Eligible residents must be located in either Wayne or Washtenaw County as of June 25, fulfill income and asset requirements, have been directly affected by the flooding and not already receive food assistance benefits.
To avoid the humidity and high temperatures sweeping across the city, Dimcheff said he visited his office and local coffee shops, where he found others also finding relief from significant power outages at their homes.
“It was the first time I had been back into the office since March of last year,” Dimcheff said. “And when I went to RoosRoast in the morning, all the people in line couldn’t make coffee at home.”
Ann Arbor resident Zachary Storey, commonly known as the Violin Monster, said he was happy to hear about the city’s quick response to aid residents affected by the storms, but said he wished the city paid equal attention to the basic needs of those experiencing housing insecurity.
“(The city’s response) just made me think about when the pandemic was first ramping up over a year and a half ago,” the Violin Monster said. “That was a huge crisis and unexpected, and people were scrambling, but it took a lot of advocacy to have the local government think about how severely this would impact already houseless or housing insecure individuals. They were slow and they never provided the amount of support that the people needed.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height, some local community members rallied for safer conditions to protect those experiencing housing insecurity. Community efforts to use empty University of Michigan buildings for housing insecure individuals were ultimately not fulfilled.
Organizing for municipal energy utilities
This most recent thunderstorm is one of many that have hit the state in the last few months. In early July, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners announced a county-wide state of emergency after severe rainfall caused water damage to homes and roadways for a week.
Just this past summer, metro Detroit has seen 13 tornado warnings, 64 severe thunderstorm warnings and four flash flood warnings, according to the National Weather Service. A recent survey of homeowners in Detroit also found that 43% of households dealt with floods since 2012. Researchers have pointed to outdated infrastructure and climate change to be significant sources of flooding.
Ypsilanti resident Greg Woodring is an organizer for the Ann Arbor for Public Power, a coalition of local members and organizations working to create a municipal energy utility in Ann Arbor. This would entail the city of Ann Arbor taking ownership of the electrical infrastructure instead of investor-owned companies like DTE Energy.
“The city would own that infrastructure and pull the power off or generate it themselves, and people would pay the rates of the city,” Woodring said. “That has a lot of benefits because both the city would not need a profit margin necessarily, so I wouldn’t be paying a profit out to shareholders. But also municipal energy utilities don’t have to pay taxes, so there’s considerable savings when you run a municipal utility versus a privately-owned, investor-owned utility.”
Woodring said the recent thunderstorms have renewed a sense of urgency to get the city to prioritize resilient energy infrastructure.
Moving forward, Woodring said the organization is working with the Ann Arbor’s Energy Commission and City Council to undergo a feasibility study on the municipalization of energy infrastructure.
“We have been hearing for years now that these things are only going to get worse, that weather is only going to get more erratic, that we’re only going to be dealing with more and more problems as the climate crisis gets worse,” Woodring said. “I think that a lot of these recent storms have sadly vindicated a lot of those viewpoints and shown that really we do need to get serious about making sure our energy system is resilient, and unfortunately I think that we’ve also shown that DTE is just not an organization built to provide that type of resiliency.”
DTE did not respond immediately to request for comment.
Daily News Editor Kristina Zheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.