Probe launched into Consumers Energy billing practices

Posted at 6:18 PM, Jan 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-20 18:43:59-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – After years of complaints from customers surrounding the estimation of power bills, Consumers Energy will now be required to cooperate with their regulatory entity on a probe looking into the practice.

Estimation occurs when Consumers cannot, for a number of reasons, get to a customer’s meter box to take a reading. The company then uses a computer software program to estimate a bill for that month based on that customer’s past usage and recent weather conditions. This, as has been the topic of thousands of complaints over nearly a decade, can lead to over- and under-estimations causing customers to play catch up on subsequent bills.

But now, a probe launched by the Michigan Public Service Commission will investigate the Consumers process for estimating, while requiring the utility company to do some of the grunt work themselves.

“Over the years, really since 2008, the commission has received a number of complaints,” said Judy Palnau with MPSC, “and during those years the commission staff has met with the utility in hopes of improving the situation but the problems persisted.”

Something MPSC will look for is a correlation between the commencement of the complaints and the rollout of a Consumers software program that uses an algorithm to calculate estimated bills. Interestingly enough, that software was implemented in 2008, around the same time the complaints began coming to MPSC en masse.

“This new software system was put in place in 2008, and the mathematical formula used to calculate the estimated bill may be part of the problem here,” said Palnau. “And this is one of the areas we’ve asked for information on. The formula they’re using may not be the best formula to be using. It does seem to coincide with this software.”

Also included in the eight-point probe: staffing issues that could have led to estimations, Consumers’ communication with customers regarding the estimates, newly installed smart meters, and possible solutions to the persisting issue.

“It’s a pretty detailed request,” said Roger Morgenstern, spokesperson for Consumers Energy, “but we’ve been meeting with the commission on this matter and we’re working on getting the number of these estimated bills reduced. At the same time we will give the commission everything that they’re looking for and we’re looking forward to their review and recommendations.”

Consumers will be required to turn in their self-review by Feb. 18. MPSC will then take a month to review that report and craft recommendations and solutions. Their review will be due back to Consumers by May 18.

“It is a problem that is not just isolated to one area – it seems to be footprint wide,” said Palnau. “So we’ll be interested in looking at that report. Everybody wants an accurate bill because you don’t want this to go one for months and then have to catch up and have to deal with that. So it’s best to have an accurate bill – I think everybody would agree with that.”

If you've experienced issues with Consumers Energy billing, contact the FOX 17 Problem Solvers at 616-447-5291 or email