DTE Energy's proposed rate hike draws protest, comment at public service commission meeting
People from Detroit, Livonia, Ypsilanti, Dearborn, Ann Arbor and more gathered in Detroit Monday night to comment on DTE Energy's request for a rate hike.
Most of the speakers were against the increase. They cited inability to pay bills, frequent service outages and the company’s millions of dollars in profits last year as reasons to oppose the increase.
The utility has requested an increase that would total $388 million more from its residential customers, which is about 8.8% increase year-on-year.
Despite that, DTE officials said in a statement that affordability of service is the company's priority, and its customers' bills are below the national average.
In a more than 600-page plan that was submitted earlier this year, DTE wants to charge solar customers a fee that is based on their three highest electricity usage days from the previous year.
As Michigan Radio has reported, the utility hasn't been able to say exactly what the fee will be, but energy experts who have done their own calculations on their electric bills have said the additional charge could be $100 a month or more.
The company said the fees will help cover the cost of renewable energy. "DTE is all-in when it comes to solar development. That’s why we need to invest in the electric grid to bring on new forms of renewable energy," DTE said in an emailed statement.
"There is no cap on private solar installations. There is only a cap on subsidies which provide lower rates than non-solar customers. We believe everyone should pay their fair share for the use of the electric grid," the company said.
Monday's session was the first meeting of the Michigan Public Service Commission to discuss DTE's newest proposed rate increase.
Dan Scripps, who chairs the commission, said the hearing was a result of the commission hearing from Detroiters earlier in the summer that they wanted more space for public comment.
Qiana M. Davis was one of the speakers. She said she lives in an older house and can’t afford the proposed rate increase.
"You have to deal with things like having faulty plumbing, wiring, as well as like lack of insulation or just a lot of drafts. And as a result, you have high energy bills," she said.
A man who said he was an owner of Bitcoin was booed during public comment. He spoke in favor of the rate increase, though he said electricity accounts for the majority of his business costs.
Another commenter said she currently has a shutoff notice from DTE for a $129 bill. She said she couldn't afford a rate increase.
Several commenters spoke of frequent power outages, with one man saying his power has gone out 14 times in the last year.
"I come and I speak for myself and my family. These bills are ridiculous. We are trying to make sure our kids have what they need every single day. ... That is not fair," he said.
Monique Taylor told the commission the struggle to pay utility bills is common. "We should never have to go to an outside to an entity to help us pay our bills. We can't even pay bus fare to give you, what, just $2? So please do not raise our bills," Taylor said.
Politicians came too.
Detroit City Councilmembers Gabriela Santiago Romero and Angela Whitfield Calloway, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI 13), Wayne County Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch, and state Representatives Laurie Pohutsky and Yousef Rabhi were among the political speakers to urge the Michigan Public Service Commission to vote no on the rate increase.
Councilmember Santiago Romero said the rate hikes are here to stay.
"When DTE came to present to my Public Health and Safety Committee, they said the rate hikes are going to be indefinite. They're going to be always happening. After I ask them, when are they going to stop? Their response for the rate hikes is the cost of inflation and the cost of materials. We know that's not right," Santiago Romero said.
Tlaib said that in 2020, DTE shutoff power to customers over 80,000 times. She said the company got millions in federal funding from the Cares Act.
"You serve us, the public," Tlaib told the commission. "Just remember that, because the corporations will always put the shareholders first. You are our buffer to that, and it's too hard for our residents right now. I'm begging you, please, make this decision in the best interest of the public. These rates are not reasonable," she said.
Public comment was cut off at 8:45 p.m., so all of the attendees were not able to speak. Commissioners said they will still accept public comment online.
The public service commission says it needs to make a decision by November 21.
DTE Energy is a corporate sponsor of Michigan Radio.