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Quarterly report shows spike in estimated reads for Consumers Energy bills

Posted at 10:21 PM, Sep 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-09 22:21:50-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich—Last week, Fox 17 Problem Solvers got a call from some customers who had electric bills up to 13 times their normal amount, and they wanted to know why their bills were so high, and what they could do about it.

Consumer’s Energy and the state is saying the center of this issue is estimated bills versus actual meter readings.

“According to the rules they should be getting an actual read at least once a year,” said Judy Palnau of the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Consumers said that it can be months before they get an actual reading on a meter, which means estimations, can be off leading to a price spike once the reading is made on the meter. The estimations can sometimes lead to big and unexpected bills.

We talked to Dana Berry, Jeff Boone, and Christina McCaid of Van Buren County who had bills that sky-rocketed.

“Mine went from $300 a month to $4887," said McCaid.

The Michigan Public Service Commission already had these types of problems on their radar.

“In this case the commission was aware there had been a spike on estimated read issues in the Consumers Energy territory even though we were not hearing from customers,” said Palnau.

A second quarter report from Consumers Energy raised a red flag for the commission.

“We noticed the spike in estimated bill reads and had told the utility that we wanted to know why it increased and so that effort is on its way,” said Palnau.

Consumers Energy is now doing a root-cause analysis and will present their findings to the commission. The commission will decide if their explanation is acceptable. Consumers says there's several variables that would keep them from getting a meter read such as unrestrained dogs or weather.

“We are looking for the sources of those estimated reads and what I can tell you is that we have come off two very cold winters. We have had lapses of weeks where we don't send out meter readers,” said Roger Morgenstern from Consumer’s Energy.

In Christina McCaid's case, she says she was told on the phone by Consumers Energy that she hadn't got an actual read in over two years. Fox 17’s Cassandra Arsenault asked Consumers Energy if they had a solid count of how many months McCaid went without a meter read.

“I don’t have the details on that. All I know is that we made agreements with the length of time for a payment plan,” Morgenstern.

Michigan Public Service Commission stands by the fact that there shouldn’t be several months going by without a meter read, but there aren’t any repercussions if Consumers Energy doesn’t get a read within a year. Consumers Energy just has to give the customers more time to pay.

“So if you had an estimated read for 3 months and you get a bill that's unusually high then you now have 3 months to pay it,” said Palnau.

Consumers Energy tells us these 3 customers in Van Buren County are on that kind of plan now, which they've agreed to. Meanwhile, the state is eagerly awaiting the reasons for the spike in estimations.

“We will hear from the utility, and if its reasons that are not reasonable then the commission can direct the utility to address that,” said Palnau.

Michigan Public Services Commission encourages people to file a formal complaint with them if your bill has gone long periods of time being estimated, and if your utility company is not providing answers as to why there aren’t regular meter reads. You can go to their website to find that information.