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.