DETROIT – A meeting held last week had city council members asking DTE Energy to halt any electricity shutoffs.
According to a resolution passed during a meeting last week, the Detroit City Council asked DTE to stop all electricity shutoffs for at least a year. The resolution urges the state’s largest utility provider to put back in place the voluntary moratorium it had at the beginning of the pandemic.
The unanimous vote from city officials comes after reporting from ProPublica and Outlier Media detailing DTE’s short-lived pause in shutoffs for the first three months of the pandemic before restarting them. According to the reporting, DTE shut off power to thousands of customers for non-payment more than 178,000 times, a record-setting amount. The number of shut-offs doubled the number from 2020.
At the pandemic’s start, state lawmakers opted not to force utility companies to keep the lights and heat on as people lost their jobs and fell behind on bills. While COVID tore through communities, there’s no law or agency that can force utility companies to provide affordable power -- only reliable power, which is where DTE has spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years as customers have faced nearly unprecedented rate hikes.
The energy company cites an increase in tree trimming and upgrades to substations and powerlines to strengthen their grid. However, during storms last summer, hundreds of thousands were still without power, many of them on DTE’s watch.
DTE sent out a statement in response to a question for comment from Local 4/ClickonDetroit, but did not address whether it would be complying with the Council’s resolution.
Two years after the start of the global pandemic, DTE customers now have less energy bill debt due to an aggressive effort to ensure customers had access to assistance from state programs, non-profit agency partners and DTE donations to pay their bills. Moratoriums are not always in the best interest of residents because they only allow debt to grow as energy use continues. It is important to connect customers to the funds and assistance available, which DTE redoubled efforts to achieve when the pandemic began. Last year, we helped customers obtain $119 million in assistance and we expect this number to grow to $163 million in 2022. In many cases, we worked with the state to apply financial aid directly to the accounts of eligible customers without requiring them to apply. Further, we forgave $2.6 million in customer debt and donated another $15 million to support agency partners in getting energy assistance to qualifying customers.DTE Energy