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Protesters say DTE rate plan punishes the poor, conservation, and solar

power lines in trees
Steffan Vilcans
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Flickr - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

DTE Energy’s proposed rate hike will hit low-income customers the hardest and benefit them the least, according to groups who protested outside a DTE customer service center in Detroit this week.

DTE has a rate case pending before the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The utility wants to hike rates an average of 9-percent across all residential customer groups. DTE says it wants to raise another $231 million annually for “continued infrastructure investment.”

But one group, getting service at a special low income pilot rate, could see rates rise as much as 45-percent. And across the board, the company is requesting higher rate increases for customers who use the smallest amounts of energy in each rate category.

Nicole Hill, an activist with the Work for Me DTE campaign, says the proposed pricing scheme is regressive and will punish people who try to use as little energy as possible.

“They’re actually punishing people for doing what they request, which is conserving energy,” Hill said. “And it’s going to just widen that gap between people that can afford their bills, and people that can’t.”

The groups also argue that DTE’s plan for grid upgrades favors areas with the most economic activity, rather than communities with the greatest infrastructure needs. They’re also upset about a proposed rider that would change how DTE charges customers who produce solar energy, effectively making it more expensive and expanding the time needed for residential solar systems to pay for themselves.

Jackson Koeppel is with the Highland Park-based community solar project Soulardarity. He says DTE’s plan amounts to disinvestment in places like Highland Park, and an effort to stifle community-based renewable energy production efforts.

“It’s a very unjust hike. It’s hurting us the most, and it’s serving us the least,” Koeppel said.

DTE spokesman Peter Ternes said it would be “premature” to comment on the rate hikes since they’re still pending before the MPSC.

But Ternes said DTE has a slew of specialized programs and options to help lower bills for low-income customers. And he suggested the protesters are more concerned about the dispute over DTE’s proposed solar energy rider, which he calls an effort to get residential solar energy customers to pay their “fair share” for supporting the grid.

DTE hopes to have its new rate schedule in effect by May.

DTW is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

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