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State commission releases report on Consumers Energy billing practices

Posted at 5:25 PM, May 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-18 17:25:23-04

LANSING, Mich. -- For almost a year, the FOX Problem Solvers have been looking into high estimated bills that people received from Consumers Energy.

Our reports helped launch a probe into the company, and now the Michigan Public Service Commission is making their recommendations on what they think Consumers Energy should change.

The report gives 11 recommendations to the company, all of them telling Consumers to step up in different areas.

Full Consumers Energy report from the Michigan Public Service Commission

The company has already been proactive and made some changes on their own, but there are still areas the state's staff said should be fixed. First and foremost, they say codes that are associated with certain homes that caution their meter readers from reading meters are outdated.

"The staff here found there was a lot of accounts that had codes associated with them," said Judy Palnau with the Michigan Public Service Commission.  "For example, an aggressive dog or some other situation that would cause an employee to be a little more cautious and not read the meter.

About 49,000 meters were estimated for three consecutive months, and 13,000 of them had estimated bills for a year or more.

Some customers received estimated bills for hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars.

The state says the company's estimated reading formula isn't wrong within itself, but changing things like temperature zones in the formula had unintended consequences.

"It was less accurate as a result," Palnau said. "The staff would like to see more communication and more frequent communication from the utility any time they are going to implement a chance."

The state also believes Consumers Energy's customer service representatives could be more helpful to their customers.

"Customer service representatives were perhaps not empowered enough to take care of problems," Palnau said.

The state also said rate payers should not be held responsible for the company's lack of meter reading, which has resulted in estimated bills.

Consumers Energy issued a statement Tuesday following the release of the state's report.  It reads, in part:

Consumers Energy recognizes the increased trend in estimated bills does not reflect our standards of customer service, and we are committed to making this right.

A comprehensive plan launched in November to address customers with consecutive estimated bills has been fully executed. As of May 1, the Company met its commitment outlined in its February report to the MPSC to reduce the number of customer accounts with three or more months of consecutively estimated bills by more than 75 percent.

Read the company's full statement