Colbeck introduces legislation to increase penalties for utility violations

Money must go toward customers and consumer protections

Senator Patrick Colbeck

Senator Patrick Colbeck

LANSING, Mich. — In the wake of a massive investigation into DTE’s poor service levels and consumer practices, Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, has introduced legislation to increase the amount a utility can be fined by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC).

Colbeck said it is widely expected that fines will be coming, which can be levied on a per customer basis. However, the MPSC will be limited in what they can assess because it has been almost ten decades since the maximum fine amounts have been adjusted.

“The maximum that utilities can be fined under some of our laws has remained unchanged for nearly 100 years and is no longer a real deterrent for the people managing our public utilities,” said Sen. Colbeck. “Also, fines in general only flow back to the MPSC and not affected customers. Instead, more financial penalties should flow toward specific consumer protection purposes, and affected customers need to receive direct compensation. Whether it is the cost of burst pipes in the winter or spoiled food in the summer, it is outrageous how many people are inappropriately getting their power turned off, and affected customers deserve far more than just an ‘oops, we’re sorry’ from our utilities.”

DTE recently issued an apology to the city of Plymouth for its poor service, but customers are not automatically receiving lowered bills or know that they need to ask for an electric credit.

During a legislative hearing regarding illegal shut-offs, DTE testimony also acknowledged that “the biggest penalty that we pay is detriment to our customer [satisfaction].” Sen. Colbeck said because most residential customers are stuck with a utility monopoly that changes to fines and penalties are clearly needed.

Preliminary MPSC findings released Feb. 21 highlighted how DTE has been violating several consumer protections rules, sometimes resulting in people having their power cut for inappropriate reasons. The new bills, SB’s 1124-26, also include language to make it easier for ratepayers to lodge complaints and receive assistance from outside consumer protection groups. The legislation will be assigned to committee next week.

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Posted in Colbeck.