In the current economic crisis, each monthly bill becomes a bigger weight on the average Michigan household. As incomes fall, necessities like paying for electricity eat up more and more of a household’s budget. So it is more important than ever that ratepayers are getting adequate service in return for their money. A new report from the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan, the advocacy group for residential ratepayers, shows how to improve accountability for the performance of the state’s investor-owned electric utilities and, as a result, ease burdens on all ratepayers.
Michigan’s system for delivering energy to customers was in dire need of more investment even before the recession. Michigan has consistently ranked as one of the worst states for reliability and affordability of electricity, as CUB laid out in a 2019 report. Now is the time to consider solutions - on July 31 the MPSC staff will issue preliminary recommendations on how to improve reliability standards as part of the MI Power Grid initiative to reform Michigan’s electric model.
The 2020 report, Utility Regulatory Measures to Improve Electric Reliability in Michigan, gives the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), the state’s primary body regulating utilities, recommendations for concrete, actionable steps it can take to better incentivize utilities to fix our aging electric grid so average ratepayers get the service they deserve.
“After record-breaking power outages in 2019 left thousands of DTE and Consumers Energy customers stranded in the dark, Attorney General Dana Nessel and many others called for reforms to the way Michigan’s utilities are regulated,” CUB of Michigan President and former MPSC commissioner Robert Nelson said. “This report shows the way forward with reforms the MPSC could implement immediately.”
The new report’s recommendations include:
- Give customers bill credits for all outages, not just those that are extremely long or affect a single customer many times per year.
- Give customers bill credits that compensate them based on the durations of their outages, rather than the flat $25 credits that customers receive under current rules.
- Make bill credits automatic by using smart meter data instead of putting the onus on customers to reach out to their utility to claim the credit after outages.
- Require utilities to provide more information about outages to customers on both their bills and in digital formats so customers know when they are eligible for bill credits.
- Create clear targets for reliability improvements based on industry-standard metrics, such as the average restoration of service time, and penalize utilities that fail to hit their targets.
These proposals would put teeth in Michigan’s standards for the minimum level of utility service.
For more information about CUB of Michigan, visit www.cubofmichigan.org.