New DTE General Rate Case: Can You Participate?

by Vigilant Dave

DTE Electric Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of DTE Energy, on December 19th 2014, filed an application to the Michigan Public Service Commission for what is known as a “general rate case”. In their application they ask for approval to slightly lower electricity rates for some classes of high volume commercial users while substantially raising rates across the board for all classes of residential customers. A typical residential customer would see an increase of $13.70/month if DTE’s application is approved.

DTE argues that commercial users have been subsidizing residential customers and that this imbalance needs to be corrected. They will be submitting some evidence to support this claim. They also indicate that they will introduce evidence concerning progress with smart meter deployments and the experience to date with the smart meter opt-out program. The official notice of hearing on this case may be found here: http://efile.mpsc.state.mi.us/efile/docs/17767/0036.pdf

DTE states that they are not asking for an increase in opt-out fees at this time as they believe such action would be ‘premature’ until there is more data on costs and participation levels. Nevertheless, we cannot rule out the possibility that the Commission will increase opt-out rates based on a possible recommendation from staff.

DTE is asking the Commission to again approve the AMI program as providing benefits to the utility customers substantially in excess of the costs that are being passed on to the customers. They are also asking the Commission to approve expansion of what is known as the “demand side management program”. Stripped of the jargon, what this means is that the company will be more aggressively seeking to control how and when residential customers may use electricity for certain appliances. This is an inevitable outgrowth of smart meters and smart appliances. The company will doubtless argue that the new programs will be ‘voluntary’.

If you would like to have a voice in this case there are two ways to do this:

  • You may simply put in “an appearance” in the case in order to get your comment on the record. This means coming to the “pre-hearing conference” on Thursday, January 29th at 9 am, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Sharon L. Feldman at the Commission’s new address: 7109 West Saginaw Highway, Lansing, Michigan. Upon arrival be sure to put your name on the sign-in sheet to speak so that they will call on you. The ALJ will likely set a time limit, such as 3 minutes or 5 minutes for each person wishing to comment. We hope a very large number of citizens who are upset with this smart meter program will take advantage of this option. There is no cost to do this other than about ½ day of your time.
  • You may choose to become what is called an “intervenor” in the case. This will allow you to take an active part over the weeks and months of hearings, including the submission of written evidence and witnesses, participation in cross-examination of DTE witnesses, and the writing of a brief in which you make arguments based on the evidence and the law as to what decision the Commission should make on DTE’s application.

To become an intervenor you must file a “Petition to Intervene” with the Commission at least 7 days prior to the pre-hearing conference, or by Thursday, January 22nd. This is a course that will require a considerably greater commitment of your time and a willingness to acquire at least some familiarity with the rules of procedure and the rules of evidence.

If you wish to become an intervenor, we can help. Some of us who have been down this road before will lead a workshop to help others if there is sufficient interest. The first step, however, is to read Part II of “Practice and Procedure Before the Commission” at: http://www7.dleg.state.mi.us/orr/Files/AdminCode/934_2009-046LR_AdminCode.pdf. Then read DTE’s application at: http://efile.mpsc.state.mi.us/efile/docs/17767/0001.pdf. Based on these 2 documents, draft your petition to intervene. Your petition can be created as a Word document or pdf document and attached to an email to the Executive Secretary of the Commission. Call me at (248) 604-7545 if you need assistance with creating your petition.

Scope of an Intervention: You can choose to limit your participation to only the smart meter issues OR you could choose to also challenge the across the board rate increase for residential customers. Either way you are going to need to present admissible evidence. But if you choose to challenge the rate increase you are probably going to need to present a witness who can be qualified as an expert on the economics and accounting procedures of the utility industry.

What is the Real Value in Becoming an Intervenor?

The real value is the opportunity to get evidence in the record that will effectively counter DTE’s claims and will, therefore, make it harder for the Commission to simply rubber stamp DTE’s application. If the Commission simply ignores the evidence that intervenors supply, it may become necessary for one or more of us to bring an appeal of the Commission’s final decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals. But first we must get evidence on record, or get on record the fact that our evidence was excluded from the record.

In the wake of the very successful hearing December 2nd public hearing before Tom McMillin’s House Oversight Committee we think the Commission and the ALJ will be more cautious about dismissing intervenors or ignoring their evidence as they have so often done in the past.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “New DTE General Rate Case: Can You Participate?

  1. David, your comments about the intervention process will deter just about anyone. I did not read all the things you say people must read, I was not familiar with the rules of evidence, yet I and another intervenor have successfully appealed the DTE opt-out program to the Court of Appeals. Please don’t make things seem next to impossible. It is hard enough to get people to participate, and comments like these only further serve to deter people.

    Folks, anyone who wants to intervene needs ONLY to state that they are a DTE customer. By virtue of that fact alone, you MUST be allowed to participate. That is all your intervention petition needs to state, along with a simple citation to the law.

    See the following:

    1. Petitioner is a residential customer of Detroit Edison, residing at [street, city] MI, at which address she takes electrical service. As a customer, she is affected by any change in rates.

    2. Petitioner has certain rights or a protected legal interest as an electrical customer under the contract for electrical service known as the “tariff” or “Rate Book”. This document is the contract between Detroit Edison and its electrical customers, as approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission following contested case procedures, as required by due process of law.

    WHEREFORE, Petitioner asks that this Petition for Intervenor Status be granted by the Commission, and that Petitioner be treated as a party to the case.

    • In reply to Smart Meter Education Network, I thought it appropriate that people know what they are getting into when they sign up to be an intervenor. The primary purposes of intervention are to introduce evidence which will be legally admissible, to challenge the evidence submitted by others, and to make legal arguments based on the evidence. Having a whole bunch of people who don’t understand these things sign up and try to use the process to just express their opinions would not reflect credit on our movement.

  2. Thanks for the invite. My question for you as, if I become an intervener, will I know ahead of time the dates that I would need to appear? I do work and I do have some flexibility but I cannot guarantee I can always attend a hearing. What if I am out of town? Thanks, Dee

    • Dee,Yes, you will receive plenty of notice of hearing dates. You probably will need to attend 3-4 hearings over a period of 4-6 months to be an effective intervenor: the prehearing, 1 or 2 motion hearings and a hearing where witnesses are cross-examined.

  3. There is a label on the new detroit Edison gas meters (which is also AMI ), label reads that gas may not be used UNMETERED, DOES NOT SAY YOU CANNOT TAKE THEIR METER OUT AND REPLACE WITH ONE OF YOUR OWN, ONLY THAT UTILITIES MAYBE NOT BE USED UNMETERED. I WILL BE CHANGING BOTH ELECTRIC AND GAS METERS AS BOTH ARE AMI.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s