Opinion: Struggling with energy bills this winter? Utilities want to help

Angie Pizzuti

Our bitter winter weather poses a life-and-death threat to thousands of Metro Detroiters who can’t afford to heat their homes. Some of them, tragically, don’t know about the huge cache of money available to low-income Michigan residents struggling to pay their utility bills — more than $160 million for 2022.

We must get the word out: Anybody who truly needs help, gets help.

A coalition of corporate, government and nonprofit partners has enough money to ensure that no Michigan resident will lose electricity or gas supplies this winter due to an inability to pay bills. What we lack is communication: Too few low-income Michigan residents know how to access the bounty of aid.

Every major utility company in Michigan helps its customers tap into government money through the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), as well as nonprofit sources such as the United Way of Southeast Michigan and The Heath and Warmth Fund (THAW).

In the last five years, DTE donated more than $50 million to non-profit partners who provide energy assistance to low-income Michigan residents, Pizzuti writes.

But for every Michigan resident who knows to apply for this assistance, there are dozens or hundreds more who don’t.

At DTE Energy alone, our customers received $119 million in 2021 through MEAP and LIHEAP, and from nonprofit agencies partially funded by DTE. This year, we expect this amount to increase to $163 million. In some cases, DTE partners with these programs to deliver financial aid directly to the accounts of eligible customers.

In the last five years, DTE donated more than $50 million to nonprofit partners who provide energy assistance to low-income Michigan residents — and we are not the only utility company in the state that supports these agencies.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted Michigan’s power companies to double down on heating assistance. DTE worked with the state to forgive nearly $4 million in debt for more than 23,000 customers. We assisted 7,500 customers in applying for state and federal aid and offered convenient payment plans for 66,000 customers.

In addition, DTE suspended service shut-offs during the peak months of the pandemic in 2020, ensuring that nobody was left in the dark or cold during the worst of the crisis. This was an extension of our standard policy to give people billing grace during periods of extreme heat or cold.

My team is equipped and trained to ensure that customers receive multiple forms of helpbeyond LIHEAP and MEAP: renters assistance through COVID emergency renters assistance, state emergency relief funds and several civic agencies whose missions are supported by DTE contributions.

We do all this through our personalized service protection plan, a program launched at the start of the pandemic to draw together the many forms of assistance and personalize solutions for DTE customers based on their specific circumstances.

The worst thing a DTE customer can do is not ask us for help. We don’t want to see our customers buried by debt or losing power. If you are in trouble, call us or reach out via our website at dteenergy.com/help.

If you own a small business experiencing a hardship due to the COVID-19 outbreak, call us and we can help you explore several options.

My request of everybody else: Please help get the word out. Thanks to our partners, nobody in need should go without help or power.

Angie Pizzuti is vice president and chief customer officer of DTE Energy, which serves nearly 3 million customers in Michigan.