Electricity prices have been astronomical since the height of the pandemic two years ago. But, what was meant as protection from the chaos in the efforts to help a failing economy, ultimately turned out to be a nightmare for millions of residents in a Michigan city, ravaged by loss of income, non-existent jobs, and a mass exodus of residents.
DTE Energy, one of Michigan's largest electricity providers, covers an area that includes over two million customers, most of which have some of the lowest annual incomes in the nation. Currently, more than 40% of the city's residents live below poverty. However, that didn't stop the company from disconnecting power more than 260,000 times in the last twenty-four months.
One man, a Detroit resident who recently lost his wife, showed reporters an electric bill with a past due balance of $2,500 dollars. Also a single father, he worries about coming home one day and not having power for his school-aged children.
"I open the door and I'm just hoping that my service is not off" - Anonymous DTE customer
His power was ultimately disconnected for non-payment just as many others who have to choose between eating, paying rent or mortgages, or making electricity payments outside of state-mandated weather moratoriums.
The Michigan Public Service Commission, which oversees utility companies across the state, has provided incentives to the company which has perpetuated some of the highest price hikes in recent years, outpricing neighboring states in some cases.
During the winter months bills can be as high as $500 for 30 days of service, especially older homes located in historic neighborhoods that tend to be unweathered and drafty due to construction. This causes some homeowners to struggle to keep up with repairs while trying to afford basic necessities.
The company, which is owned by shareholders and investors, wants to implement a new option in the future, which it says would help some of its customer base. A plan that would allow users to prepay their electricity to control the monthly costs, with a $40 reconnection requirement if their power needs to be restored.
For now, residents still struggle as the Spring is taking shape, while advocacy groups and consumer agencies look for alternative measures to help.