DTE rates to increase nearly 9% for some users; firm's solar plan curbed

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
The investigation began a year ago, months after DTE began using a new billing system. The commission received complaints that power was being improperly shut off. More than 4,000 customers did not receive a proper shut-off notice for nonpayment.

Starting May 9, many residential DTE Energy customers will see a nearly 9% increase in their electric bills under a rate hike approved Thursday by the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The rate increase of roughly $273.3 million was a little more than half of the $476.6 million requested by DTE last July, the commission said in a statement.

A residential customer who uses about 500 kilowatt hours of electricity a month will pay about $6.19 extra monthly, an increase of about 8.6%. 

DTE's focus on affordability is balanced against “significant investments to improve the safety and reliability of the energy grid," the company said in a Thursday statement.

“The Michigan Public Service Commission-approved rate change will fund new and upgraded electric infrastructure and technology as well as an enhanced focus on tree trimming,” a DTE statement said.

Wind storms in recent years have knocked out power around Metro Detroit, prompting consumer complaints. A March 2017 ice storm resulted in power outages of more than a week for some consumers, helping to fuel DTE's tree-trimming program. 

The service commission also approved up to $283 million on tree trimming through 2021, $195.3 million in capital investments in the company’s distribution system and $13 million in an electric vehicle pilot program.

An initial review of the commission's decisions produced a mixed bag of reactions from activist groups like Soulardarity, a Highland Park community organization that opposed the increases.

The commission's rejection of items that would have impacted low income customers — such as residential flat fees and increased bounced check fees — was a relief, said Soulardarity executive director Jackson Koeppel. But the commission also kept in place infrastructure funding priorities that placed areas with economic activity above those most sorely in need of infrastructure upgrades, such as Detroit, he said. 

"We see that as being a really fundamental problem in the way these investments are made and paid for," Koeppel said. 

The commission rejected a new system access charge proposed by DTE for customers who had installed renewable energy equipment and contributed to the energy grid. The commission approved part of another proposal that would adjust the inflow/outflow billing formula for customers generating renewable energy.

DTE said it will be evaluating the commission’s order.

DTE line crews repair a power line along Caniff Street near Oakland Street in Detroit on Sunday, February 24, 2019, as high winds caused power outages in the area.

“We believe non-private solar customers should not have to cover the cost of additional grid use and services for private solar customers,” the company said, noting that many customers are generating 100% of what they use through renewable energy “without investing in additional equipment or making exterior alterations to their homes.”

The fee on renewable energy customers would have been devastating for customers’ continued affordable use of solar energy, according to the Michigan League for Conservation Voters. The league credited the rejection of DTE’s full rate increase and solar energy fees to the 2,300 residents who submitted public comments.

"DTE Energy's proposal to increase rates on everyone and gut affordable solar was thwarted in today's decision because thousands of Michiganders — sick and tired of paying the highest rates in the Midwest — got involved and made their voices heard," said the league’s executive director Lisa Wozniak.


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