Lawmakers unveil legislation to provide relief to customers during power outages, hold utility companies accountable

Lawmakers unveil legislation to provide relief to customers during power outages, hold utility companies accountable

Bills would require automatic credits for power outages, increase transparency on utility bills, hold utility companies accountable for better reliability

LANSING – Representatives Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) and Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) today announced legislation that would provide relief to customers who lose power during outages and increase accountability over utility companies’ poor performance. Supporters from the League of Conservation Voters and We the People Action Fund spoke at the event in favor of the legislation. 

The five bills would provide a number of protections for utility customers, including automatic bill credits when the power goes out repeatedly, escalating credits based on duration of outage, greater transparency on utility bills and requirements for distribution and grid investment plans to be reviewed by the Michigan Public Service Commission.

“Investor-owned monopoly utility companies DTE and Consumers Energy have made record profits in recent years, yet communities across the state are still left in the dark with frequent power outages,” Representative Yousef Rabhi said. “Our legislation will ensure that people are fairly compensated with bill credits when their power goes out, and that those credits come from utility profits, not rate increases. The status quo is not working for Michigan families. Our utility companies must do better.”

Under the new legislation, utility companies will be required to issue automatic credits to residential customers who experience outages. This will also include requiring credits for renters whose electricity costs are covered by their landlord for associated costs, like spoiled food. Local governments would also be compensated for reasonable costs of responding to an outage such as operating heating and cooling centers for vulnerable residents. 

Under the proposed credit structure utility companies would be required to compensate customers with an hourly credit that would escalate based on the duration of the outage, starting at $5 for the first hour and increasing up to $25 per hour for outages that last for 72 hours or more. Frequent interruptions would also be covered by requiring that utility companies give customers an additional $100 credit for four service interruptions lasting longer than one hour within a four-month period; $200 for six outages in a six month period, and $300 if eight interruptions occur within 12 months.

“When the power goes out, which happens far too often, there are real financial burdens for Michigan families. These bills will provide much needed relief and incentivize utility companies to improve their services and keep the lights on,” said Representative Abraham Aiyash. “We continue to pay more and more for our electricity, but receive the same abysmal service year after year. Our legislation will improve accountability by giving state regulators and intervenors more scrutiny over utility distribution and maintenance plans.”

Year after year, federal energy data shows customers of monopoly utility companies DTE and Consumers Energy pay the highest residential costs for energy in the Midwest and receive some of the worst service in the country. The most recent example of the rampant power outages happened last summer when a series of storms knocked out power for nearly a million residents across the state. Despite frequent outages, rate increases and record profits, utility companies have not been held accountable for improving their service.

“We pay the highest costs for energy in the midwest but receive some of the worst service in the nation,” said Nick Dodge, communications director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “We applaud Reps. Rabhi and Aiyash for working to provide relief to Michigan residents while holding investor-owned monopoly utility companies accountable.”

Over the past five years, DTE Energy has increased rates by $775 million, and is currently seeking another rate increase. After storms late last year that knocked out power for more than a million people, the House Energy Committee held two hearings, however no plan for resolution came out of them. 

“For too long, corporations like DTE energy and the politicians they pay for have distracted us with lies while they line their pockets, pollute our air, and make us foot the bill,” said Kamau Jawara, Detroit organizer for We the People Action Fund. “By coming together, we can make sure everyone has reliable, affordable, clean energy that ensures we all thrive in the communities we love. We stand with Reps. Rabhi and Aiyash in challenging the status quo and putting people first over big utility company interests.”

During the power outages last summer, after public outcry, DTE awarded people who lost power only a $25 credit on their bills, despite some people losing power for nearly a week. This legislation would increase that payment and scale with duration and amount of outages. 

“When the power went out for up to a week last summer, some people received a $25 credit for going days without service – and many others who lost power got nothing,” said Layla Elabed, lead Southeast Michigan organizer for We the People Action Fund. “It’s a slap in the face to everyday Michiganders and shows how badly profit-driven utility companies, and the people appointed to regulate them, have failed us.”

This legislation is supported by the following groups: Citizens Utility Board of Michigan, Ecology Center, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, We the People Action Fund, Soulardarity and the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. Town hall events are being planned in Detroit in the coming months to further educate and engage residents about the legislation and the need to hold monopoly utility companies accountable. 

“Reps. Aiyash and Rabhi are proposing the serious reforms that Michigan ratepayers badly need but have so far failed to receive from their state utility regulators,” Citizens Utility Board of Michigan (CUB) Executive Director Amy Bandyk said. “Consumers Energy and DTE have consistently failed to deliver affordable and reliable electric service, as CUB’s utility performance reports have revealed, and the problem is only getting worse. This legislation would help Michiganders deal with outages and would also put Michigan on the path to no longer being one of the worst states for utility service.”

“For far too long, Michigan’s utility companies have been charging astronomical rates while providing some of the most unreliable service in the nation,” said Sierra Club Michigan Chapter’s Legislative and Political Coordinator, Tim Minotas.“It’s left our communities without power or stuck struggling to pay the bills. These bills are a step in the right direction to delivering the relief customers deserve. The Sierra Club proudly stands with Representatives Aiyash and Rabhi as they fight to hold utilities accountable for poor performance and unfair rates.”

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