Detroit, MI

Power company prioritizes "profits over people" by ramping up shut-offs for low-income customers behind on bills

Kristen Walters

DTE Energy's customers pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Now, many low-income customers in the Detroit area who struggle to pay are being left in the dark.

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Residential Detroit neighborhood.

DTE Energy provides electric service to the Detroit area. Despite having more than half a million customers who are currently living below the poverty line, DTE has some of the highest electricity rates in the country.

According to recent reports, DTE shut off electric services last year at a rate 47% higher than other utility companies in the area, such as Consumers Energy. In 2021, DTE shut off electric service to more than 178,200 homes in the Detroit area, which is more than double the number of shut-offs made in 2020.

Despite the fact that electric service is a basic need that many low-income residents are struggling to pay for, energy companies are not required to consider "affordability" when setting rates. In fact, most companies like DTE are primarily focused on profits so they can keep their investors happy.

While the state of Michigan does have laws in place that prohibit utility companies from shutting off services during "extreme" weather, DTE has the power to decide how aggressive they will be with shut-offs when bills are not paid on time outside of times when the temperature is very hot or cold.

DTE customers can work with the company to set up payment plans if they get behind on their bills, but for many low-income residents, a payment plan isn't a long-term solution to their problem. The problem for many Detroit area residents is that the cost of service is simply too high to be affordable.

Some members of the community are calling on Michigan lawmakers to place a cap on utility rate increases to help curb the problem. Companies like DTE are posting major profits while the customers they serve are struggling to keep their lights on.

Do you think there should be a cap on utility increases?

Or, do you think companies should be able to charge whatever they want?

Share your opinion in the comments.

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