Sen. Colbeck: DTE penalties for illegal business practices not sufficient to deter bad behavior

Customers impacted by shutoffs and services paid for but not rendered

LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, voiced concerns Monday that DTE’s proposed settlement in the state’s legal case against the utility is insufficient to deter future bad behavior.

Case U-20084 deals with a variety of utility customer complaints against DTE including illegal service shutoffs and billing customers for opting out of smart meters without actually turning off the smart meters.

“DTE has a virtual, government-enabled monopoly on electrical service to our residents in Southeast Michigan,” said Sen. Colbeck. “State government has a responsibility to ensure that consumers are protected against fraudulent customer services. In a monopoly, consumers have no other choice.

“DTE’s proposed fine of $840,000 is simply not enough money to be a real deterrent against this type of behavior. It is even unclear at this time how the fine has actually been calculated.”

Senate Bill 1124, sponsored by Sen. Colbeck, would increase the amount that Michigan’s monopoly utilities can be fined, from a maximum ratepayer rules-violation fine amount of $1,000 per affected customer to $10,000 per affected customer.

His suite of bills would also make sure that money went to affected customers and not just the state. Fine amounts have not been increased for a century.

“It has now been proven that customers who were forced to pay extra to opt out of transmitting smart meters were not being provided with the service they were supposed to be receiving,” said Sen. Colbeck. “The change to new meters that DTE is now proposing is something that the MPSC should be requiring of DTE regardless of this settlement. It is long overdue.

“Customers concerned about the use of smart meters have sacrificed countless personal hours to make their case. For a long time, both DTE and the MPSC refused to accept there was a problem. Customers should be allowed to keep their analog meters if that is their preference. As I most recently stated in a letter to the commission, the state needs to go back and reassess the benefits and the risks of the entire smart meter program.”

Sen. Colbeck said he also has serious concerns about the one-year timeframe to swap out the meters. He said it stands in stark contrast to the rapid rollout of poorly designed smart meters, as their rapid rollout was incentivized by ill-conceived provisions of Michigan law that enable DTE to earn a generous return on investment for such technology deployments.

Smart meters will be among the topics at a Dec. 4 forum hosted by Sen. Colbeck in Lansing featuring national and international experts discussing the benefits and risks of such technology.

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Posted in Colbeck.