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New proposal would force Michigan energy companies to pay consumers back for power outages

Consumers Energy crews working to restore power in Allegan near Ida Street. (Hannah Knowles/WWMT){ }
Consumers Energy crews working to restore power in Allegan near Ida Street. (Hannah Knowles/WWMT)
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As storms cloud Michigan's lower peninsula for the next 24 hours, some residents are living in fear they'll lose power to their home for minutes, hours, or even days.

New legislation introduced in Lansing this week would demand energy companies pay consumers back for any time they have to go without power.

With great power comes great responsibility, and there's only a few Michigan companies holding the keys to our power. The majority of Michigan's energy is handled by one company: Consumers Energy.

In metro Detroit, the options are DTE Energy or no energy at all.

“We cannot continue to wait. We cannot continue to allow the power to go out and to threaten people’s lives,” House Minority Floor Leader Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, said at a press conference that announced the legislation on Wednesday.

HB 6043-6047 would require energy companies to give power back to the people by paying them back, by the hour, depending on how long the power is out.

“We have been accustomed to accepting a norm that if your power goes out it is the responsibility of the resident to find ways to make it work,” said Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, who introduced the bills with Rabhi.

Even with consumer support behind them, Rabhi and Aiyash could face an uphill battle getting the bills through because of the strong energy company lobbying in Lansing.

“It is my hope that our colleagues will look more at their residents and less at the coffers of DTE and Consumers,” said Aiyash.

Energy companies should be held accountable, but would not commit to give the bills a hearing yet, said Majority Vice Chair of House Energy Committee Rep. Greg Markkanen.

“We’ll have to take a look at the language and see just what it says precisely, but you know, I think everything’s on the table,” said Markkanen, R-Hancock.

The legislation is unnecessary, and the Michigan Public Service Commission has already done a thorough review of their service quality, said DTE Energy.

"At DTE we are addressing the causes of outages by accelerating our investments in grid hardening. In areas where work is complete, our customers are seeing a 50-70% improvement in reliability," said Pete Ternes, spokesperson for DTE Energy. "The company has also committed $90 million to further accelerate its tree trim program, a major cause of outages, without raising rates. Last year we filed a Distribution Grid Plan for the next five years with the MPSC. The plan includes modernizing infrastructure to make the grid more resilient to the increasingly severe weather in Michigan, helping to drastically reduce the cost of outages for our customers as well as reducing budgeted funds and time spent on outages caused by equipment failures and weather."

Consumers Energy did not respond to a request for comment on the legislation by news time.

Rabhi said he plans to introduce legislation that would stop Michigan lawmakers from taking donations from companies they are legislating.

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