Michigan regulators pump the brakes on DTE’s plans to increase customer charges (again)

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If at first you don’t succeed, try again. And again. And again.

Last week the staff of the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) issued a proposed ruling approving in part DTE Energy’s latest rate case. We say in part, due to one notable exception: staff rejected the utility’s proposal to increase its fixed charges on customers, including those who go solar, from the current $7.50 and $11.25 per month.

Higher fixed charges reduce the amount of a customer’s bill that they can eliminate with a PV system under net metering, undermining the economics of rooftop solar. They also allow utilities to continue to bring in more revenue from such customers.

This proposed decision will now go to commissioners for approval. If the rest of the recommendations go forward, this will result in a 9% increase in the rates for the average residential customer, but this also includes $13 million for an EV charging program.

 

Try again?

This is far from the first time that the commission has rejected DTE Energy’s proposals to up its fixed charges. Per the proposed decision:

In DTE Electric’s last three electric rate cases, the company has advocated for inclusion of at least some demand-related costs, along with customer-related costs, as part of the monthly customer service charge for residential and commercial secondary customers. The Commission has consistently rejected the company’s approach and adopted the method proposed by the Staff. Despite the Commission’s decisions on this issue, the most recent of which occurred less than one year ago, Mr. Lacey again proposed the inclusion of demand-related costs as part of the customer charge. In this regard, DTE Electric should be mindful of its own admonition that parties should not be “forced to respond repeatedly to arguments that have been conclusively resolved, as if the Commission’s prior decisions are meaningless.

As rooftop solar proliferates across the country, utilities have been increasing fixed charges. And while regulators typically don’t give utilities everything that they ask for, they have been successful in many places in slowly ratcheting up such charges. But not apparently in Michigan.

 

Dark money and non-profits

DTE is also using the non-profit sector to spread its message. Non-profits with strong ties to DTE Energy are running a media campaign arguing that state policy makes customer-owned solar bad for communities of color and the poor. As reported by Renewable Energy World, two of the three board members in Alliance for Michigan Power, Michigan Energy First and Michigan’s Energy Promise are backing DTE’s proposals to cut net metering.