Utility execs: Facts on utility rates, energy policy

Re: The op-ed column in the Feb. 17 Detroit News “Utilities work to stifle choice, boost rates”: The column on Michigan utility rates and energy policy is filled with half-truths and distortions. Here are the facts about Michigan’s energy system and proposed updates to state energy policy:

■Like roads, bridges and most other public infrastructure across the country, Michigan’s electric system needs to be modernized. Our hometown utilities have worked hard to extend the life of existing equipment rather than replace it. But to deliver the reliability Michigan’s families and businesses expect, and to provide an electric system that meets the needs of the 21st century economy, it’s time to modernize the system with new technology and equipment.

■In Michigan, rates for public utilities are set in a transparent, public process. Any interested party can take part in that process to make sure their concerns are heard. In addition, public utilities can recover costs through rates only when they prove to an independent public commission that the money was spent prudently to benefit ratepayers. Rates for private electric suppliers are not regulated by the state and are arbitrarily set by their out-of-state owners.

Michigan utilities work hard to control costs and keep rates as low as possible. Over the last eight years, DTE Electric has kept operating costs flat, while costs at similar utilities have increased 33 percent. Even with its requested rate increase, DTE customer bills would still be about the same as in 2012 and, more important, below the national average. Consumers Energy residential customer bills have remained consistently below the national average since 2010, and the company has reduced rates for some energy-intensive companies by 15 percent or more in the last year.

■Since 2008, 99.98 percent of Michigan utility customers have paid more than $1 billion in a backdoor subsidy to benefit a few large electric users and a handful of out-of-state energy marketers. Families, small businesses and seniors are paying more because of a loophole in Michigan’s current energy policy.

■Proposed bills in the state House and Senate would preserve retail access at 10 percent but add some common-sense provisions to keep the subsidy from growing. The legislation also would require that retail marketers have sufficient power supplies lined up to serve their customers. This would protect reliability of the electric system for all users.

DTE and Consumers together employ approximately 17,000 Michigan workers. As founding members of the Pure Michigan Business Connect initiative, the two companies have spent more than $11 billion with Michigan-based companies since 2010.

Let’s not worry about the welfare of a few out-of-state energy marketers — especially when it means ignoring the needs of Michigan families and businesses who want a reliable, affordable electric system. Let’s keep our priorities straight and fight for them.

Steven E. Kurmas, DTE Energy

David Mengebier, Consumers Energy