Michigan Energy Consumers Need Help Paying Their Bills, So A New Collaborative Effort Is Needed

Photo by Brendan Wood, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan has been calling for an overhaul of programs to assist Michigan utility customers, particularly low-income and/or elderly customers. So we are happy to see a new effort underway by state regulators to figure out exactly how to fix many of the problems with existing aid programs. This effort stems from Michigan regulators’ response to the pandemic, but let’s be clear: even before the pandemic, the problems were still there. The pandemic has just heightened the urgency.

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CUB Executive Director Amy Bandyk Speaks On Energy Resilience and Equity at Virtual Forum

 

Michigan regulators can confront two of the biggest challenges for energy consumers—poor electric reliability and the inequitable treatment of low to moderate-income customers—through data-driven changes to the way utilities are regulated, Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan Executive Director Amy Bandyk said March 26, speaking on a panel at the 16th Annual Michigan Forum on Economic Regulatory Policy, a conference held by the Michigan State University Institute of Public Utilities (IPU).

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Final Report of Upper Peninsula Task Force Covers Different Facets of Energy Supply in the UP

Photo source. Licensed through Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. May not be used for commercial purposes or without appropriate credit.

The Upper Peninsula Task Force has released its final report, a culmination of almost two years of conversations with energy providers, municipal leaders, regulators, academics, consultants and the general public. While the goal of the report is “to provide a roadmap for actions the state could take to improve affordability, enhance reliability, and promote energy security for UP residents,” the issues it confronts are some of the thorniest energy supply problems found anywhere.

That means that while the focus is how to help UP residents, the report is very relevant for energy consumers anywhere, including the Lower Peninsula. If policymakers and communities can address affordability and energy insecurity in a region with some of the most challenging geography for delivering electricity to customers, they can do so anywhere.

(For more background on why the UP is unique, read through our blog posts on the subject over the last two years, such as this post kicking off this project and also this post.)

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Why Residential Access to Solar Power in Michigan Is Lacking

More and more people are thinking about putting up solar panels on their homes. One of the biggest barriers to people installing solar panels has to do with perhaps the most basic question: Where do I put the darn things? Maybe your roof isn’t big enough. Maybe you rent, and don’t have the right to dictate what goes on your roof. Maybe you don't have the upfront cash for a down payment on solar panels. Or maybe it's a combination of all those factors and more.

Community solar is a concept created to address situations like that and expand access to solar power for those who would otherwise not be able to use solar panels. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) recently held a meeting about community solar as part of the New Technologies and Business Models workgroup under the MI Power Grid initiative (MI Power Grid being the commission’s ongoing effort to transform its regulatory approach for Michigan energy in light of the disruption brought by renewable and distributed energy and energy storage).

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The Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force’s Recommendations Are Out, And They Want Feedback From You

We are just a few weeks away from the Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force’s deadline to submit its final report to the governor about how to confront the complicated challenges facing the Upper Peninsula and its access to reliable, affordable and clean energy.

On March 3, the task force held one of its last meetings, in which the members discussed the draft recommendations for the final report, due March 31, and potential ways to improve the recommendations.

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CUB Witness Lays Out Plan To Help Utility Customers Through Winter In Time of COVID-19

Photo by Jason Pratt, used under Creative Commons license CC BY 3.0

 

We are about a year into COVID-19 and the pandemic, and while the toll it is having on the economy is as bad as ever, the protections for ratepayers have not gotten stronger in response. Quite the contrary—they are more meager than at the outset of the pandemic, when Michigan utilities like DTE and Consumers Energy were promising not to shut off power for vulnerable customer groups such as low-income and elderly customers.

In testimony recently filed with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on behalf of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the National Housing Trust, expert witness Roger Colton, a consultant on utility issues for low-income customers, lays out in detail what should be done to help get customers through this winter and why the current approach is flawed.

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Will New Regulations To Help Customers With Power Outages Get The Job Done?

It’s been about a year and a half since Michigan’s “wake-up call” moment for electric reliability: a summer 2019 day of devastating thunderstorms that led to catastrophic losses of power across the service territories of DTE and Consumers Energy. The incident focused attention on the Michigan utilities’ generally poor performance when dealing with power outages and the need for a regulatory solution. Now, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) is close to finalizing new standards for service quality for electric utilities. That includes, most prominently, the bill credits that are due to customers who experience prolonged outages (More background here, and also check out this paper from March 2020 which goes into much greater detail on ways to improve reliability in Michigan).

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Consumers Energy Gets Much Smaller Rate Increase Than Requested, While Inequitable Treatment of Residential Customers Remains

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The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on Dec. 17 ordered that Consumers Energy can raise rates on its electric customers by around $100 million for 2021, representing a nearly 60% cut of the utility’s original rate hike request. The MPSC’s order is broadly in line with a proposed decision by an administrative law judge that we blogged about in October.

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Grants To Help Low-Income Households Get Through A Tough Winter

Photo by Brendan Wood, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

We are entering a winter that is particularly bleak due to the continuing pandemic. Access to home heating services is more important than ever, so it is good news that an additional $54.5 million in funding will be available for heating assistance for low-income customers, as the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Dec. 3.

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Clean Energy Opportunities in the Upper Peninsula: The Role of the MPSC and Intervenors

A word that comes up frequently in discussions about the future of energy in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is “opportunity.” “Clean energy is a big opportunity for the Upper Peninsula,” Bryan Newland, the tribal chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community in the eastern end of the UP, said in his opening remarks at the UP Clean Energy Conference, held virtually Nov. 9. Wind and solar energy backed up by batteries can create more locally-sourced power, which means more jobs for the UP, Newland said.

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