Michigan utilities would pay residents if their power goes out under new legislation

Two Democratic state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require utility companies like DTE and Consumers to pay customers if their power goes out. 

Under the bills introduced by Reps. Abraham Aiyash of Hamtramck and Yousef Rabhi, if a customer's power goes out, residential customers would be credited for every hour they're without energy. The longer the outage, the larger the credit that would be returned to people. 

Credit would also be paid to renters whose energy bills are paid for by their landlord as well as local governments that respond to outages by operating heating and cooling centers for vulnerable residents. 

"The status quo is not working for Michigan families. Our utility companies must do better," said Rabhi. 

"We continue to pay more and more for our electricity, but receive the same abysmal service year after year," said Aiyash. "Our legislation will improve accountability by giving state regulators and intervenors more scrutiny over utility distribution and maintenance plans."

Under the bill's payment structure, utility companies would be required to credit residential customers on an escalating basis. For the first hour, utilities would credit customers $5. It would increase up to $25 per hour for outages that last 72 hours or more. 

A release from the lawmakers said that frequent interruptions would also be covered by crediting customers an additional $100 for four outages lasting longer than one hour within a four-month period, $200 for six outages in a six-month period, and $300 if eight outages happen within a 12-month period. 

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Last year, a massive storm that swept through Michigan knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of residents across the state. Nearly 600,000 DTE customers were without power in Southeast Michigan, while Consumers reported some 200,000 outages elsewhere. Some were without power for a week. 

Utility companies called the outages "historic" and said it would need to invest in more tree trimming jobs due to falling branches causing many of the disruptions. 

DTE compensated those who lost power from the incident with a $25 credit. 

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In a review of 2019 outage data, the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan reported the state had the fourth-highest number of average disruptions in the U.S., behind Maine, West Virginia, and California.

Michigan also reported some of the highest energy costs in the Midwest. According to the CUB's report, residents paid 3.18% of their median income on utilities.