Michigan AG wants utilities to reveal lobbying efforts when asking for rate hikes

The Michigan Attorney General is asking the state's public service commission to require utility companies disclose how much they spend on lobbying efforts when requesting rate hikes.

Dana Nessel proposed that utilities like DTE and Consumer's Energy be more transparent during their rate cases with the Michigan Public Service Commission. She also asked the commission to require utilities justify their expenses with a cost/benefit analysis and reduce the length of their forecast.

Utilities in Michigan can't increase rates on their own. They must request a rate hike through the Michigan Public Service Commission. Their requests typically get filed within a short time of their previous rate increase request being approved.

The commission hears from several parties when considering a rate request, who file comments to help the commission better understand how much each utility should increase their rates on customers.

The attorney general frequently intervenes in these cases.

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Nessel's latest comment came after staff at the commission asked interested parties if there should be any modifications to the way it considers rate cases.

"Utilities are government created monopolies regulated by the state," Nessel said in a statement. "Accordingly, customers of these monopolies should have the right to know whether and how much their utility is spending to influence legislation or other public policy that impacts the utility and consumers. I am hopeful the Commission will consider these recommendations and implement them for Michigan." 

Boosted transparency could have drastic implications for utilities. A release from Nessel's office outlined what specifically she's requesting, which include information about:

  • Expenses for the purpose of influencing regulation or legislation
  • Expenses for the purpose of influencing public opinion about policy issues or about the company’s reputation
  • Expenses relating to all proceedings before the Commission, with specificity about how and how much the company spent on the previous rate case and how much it forecasted for the current general rate case.
  • The 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) contributions to each non-profit organization, including those organizations receiving contributions from the utility’s affiliated 501(c)(3) charitable foundations.
  • Expenses for any litigation that utilities file seeking to overturn rules or statutes