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AG Nessel intervenes in response to DTE outage credit waiver request

AB Electrical & Communications Ltd
U.S. Energy Department

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a motion to intervene in a case involving DTE Energy before the Michigan Public Service Commission last week. DTE is seeking a waiver from the commission that would not require it to automatically issue outage credits to customers without smart meters.

Those customers would have to apply for the compensation.

In Michigan, customers are eligible for billing credits due to frequent or long outages. Utilities must provide $38 credits for customers who experience 6 or more interruptions in a year. Those credits are also applied based on condition type and length of outages. There is a 90-day window from the outage time to dispense the credit.

In a filing before the public service commission, DTE asked for a partial rule waiver. The company wants customers who opt out of advanced metering infrastructure (known as smart meters) to request payment. DTE says smart meters make outage detection easier and bills more accurate.

In its filing, the company argued that it was “unduly economically burdensome” to put in place an internal automation technology system that would specifically identify customers opting out of smart meters as eligible for outage bill credits.

DTE argued it would be easier and more effective to have the customers apply for credits, with the 90-day window to disburse the payment starting the day of the application.

Nessel said in a statement that DTE was looking to be excused from complying with state outage rules. “DTE’s desire to erode public accountability measures is unsurprising, but it is an overreach to seek to be permanently excused from complying with the outage credit mandate,” she said.

In its statement, DTE said it is “committed to providing outage credits to all qualifying customers. The company said that happens automatically for about 2 million customers who have smart meters. But for about 13,000 customers who have opted out and continue to use legacy meters, DTE said "technology limitations" prevent the company from getting real-time outage information from affected customers.

"DTE has not requested to be excused from paying outage credits for these customers," the statement said. "The company has requested that these legacy meter customers proactively submit a credit request to help ensure their outage credit is captured and processed.”

Amy Bandyk of the nonprofit Citizens Utility Board of Michigan supported Nessel in the dispute. “While it might be more challenging to provide outage credits to customers who opt out of smart meters, the burden should not be on any customer, smart meter or not, who are already stressed by long power outages to have to track DTE’s failures to keep the lights on and report to the utility to get the compensation to which state laws entitle them,” Bandyk said.

The citizens utility board said DTE should shoulder the responsibility of contacting customers and guiding them through the credit process.

DTE Energy is one of Michigan Public’s corporate sponsors.

A.J. Jones is a newsroom intern and graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Sources say he owns a dog named Taffy.
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