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Detroiters to give opinions on DTE Energy's request for rate and solar fee increases at Monday hearing

DTE_monroe_plant.jpg
via DTE Energy
DTE Energy's coal-burning plant in Monroe, Michigan

The Michigan Public Service Commission will hold a public hearing in Detroit from 6-8 p.m. Monday on DTE Energy's pending rate increase.

The utility has requested an increase of $388 million dollars from its residential customers. That's about an 8.8% increase.

DTE also wants to charge solar customers a fee that is based on their three highest electricity usage days from the previous year. The utility has said it cannot tell customers how much that will be, but energy experts have done the math on their own electric bills, and they say the additional charge could be $100 a month or more.

Keith Cooley is Chair of the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan, a non-profit group that advocates on behalf of residential electric customers.

He said it's unfair for DTE to ask customers, especially low income customers, to shoulder such a big rate increase.

"Compare that to the 4.1% increase they're asking from their industrial customers. Our question becomes, what's with the residential ratepayers? Why do they have to pay almost double - actually more than double? It makes no sense."

Detroiter Qiana Maria Davis said she plans to speak at the hearing. Davis is a member of Emergent Justice, a social justice organization.

She is also low-income, and qualifies for DTE's "Low Income Self-Sufficiency Plan," which charges customers a sliding scale rate based on income. She said the rate increase will affect her, but not as much as the many low-income Detroiters who are not enrolled in the plan. She said DTE Energy makes it too hard to qualify.

"There are a lot of hoops you have to jump through to qualify, and DTE should make it easier, to make the program more accessible and improve the ease of entry, so you can quickly get the assistance you need," she said.

Davis also said many of DTE Energy's low-income customers struggle with their electric bills because their residences are very energy-inefficient, and they need to use more air conditioning in the summer than people with efficient homes, and in the winter, they may have to use electric heaters to supplement their heat to keep warm.

"That is exactly my situation," she said. "The current place I live in is a duplex, it's an older structure, it's leaky, it has a lack of good insulation. So even though I'm on that plan, I still pay more based on my usage. You have to be able to have resources other than putting plastic in the windows."

Jackson Koeppel is an expert witness in the rate case on behalf of Soulardarity, a Highland Park pro-solar group, and We Want Green Too, a group that advocates for green energy and green energy jobs for veterans and residents of Detroit's East Side.

He said DTE Energy's solar proposal would immediately halt all future residential rooftop solar installations in DTE's territory because the monthly cost would be so prohibitive.

He said DTE also has what he calls a "poison pill," in its rate application, in which it agrees to lift its current state-mandated1% cap on participation in the utility's rooftop solar program — but only if the MPSC agrees to the dramatic boost in solar customers' monthly fees.

Koeppel said the proposed rate increase is likely inflated, and the solar idea is ridiculous. He said it's unlikely they would be accepted as-is by the MPSC.

"If these things seem unreasonable on their face, DTE might think that they're unreasonable, too, and just want to appear to be meeting in the middle when they're actually getting what they want."

Koeppel also said DTE Energy needs to propose a viable, strong community solar program, so low-income Detroiters can benefit from the lower rates and green energy benefits of solar, even if they can't afford to install solar panels on their own homes.

DTE Energy did not provide a statement to Michigan Radio. In its application, it says it needs the rate increase for these reasons:

The Company has determined the need for additional annual revenues in the amount of approximately $388 million effective as early as November 10, 2022, in order to recover, among other things, Applicant’s increased investments in plant involving generation and the electric distribution system and the associated depreciation and property tax increases. The increased investments and related expenses are offset by lower operation and maintenance (“O&M”) expenses.

The utility has also previously said the new monthly solar fee it proposes is necessary because customers with rooftop solar are not paying their fare share of infrastructure costs.

Others who have filed objections in the case include Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. Her filings argue that DTE's need for additional revenue amounts to about $60 million, not $388 million.

DISCLOSURE: DTE is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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