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New legislation would increase fines if a utility wrongly shuts off customers' power

A picture of a digital electricity meter

The Michigan Public Service Commission says DTE Energy will pay a fine of $840,000, and do regular auditing for compliance with regulations, among other steps, after shutting off gas and electricity to about 5,000 people in 2017 and 2018 without giving them a second shutoff notice.

But that's a drop in the bucket, according to state Senator Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton).

"Obviously, it is not deterring them from doing this," says Colbeck. "It's happening time after time."

The Public Service Commission also found that in some instances, DTE collected a one-time charge along with regular monthly fees for customers to opt-out of having an active smart meter, yet the radio signal from the device was left active.

Colbeck says that happened to him.

The utility also failed to send monthly bills to many customers, resulting in some owing three or more months' worth of payments.

Colbeck's bills would increase the allowable fine ten-fold, from $1,000 per individual violation, to $10,000. The bills would also require that some of the assessed fine be passed on to customers, rather than all of it going into state coffers.

The problems began in 2017 after DTE installed a new billing system.

The utility says the problems affected a "small percent" of customers, and it says it apologizes for the inconvenience. The utility did not comment on Colbeck's bills.

Editor's note: DTE Energy is a corporate sponsor of Michigan Radio.

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