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Consumers Energy gets $515K fine, but what does that mean for customers?

Posted at 5:14 PM, Jun 10, 2016

LANSING, Mich.— Consumers Energy will pay $515,8000 for violating estimating billing practices.

More than 12,000 customers have struggled to pay unthinkable bills because of estimated reads. Some of those bills were tens of thousands of dollars.

Fox 17 Problem Solver, Cassandra Arsenault, has been covering this story for almost a year with customers having issues with estimated billing breaking the news last summer. Several customers who have dealt with paying for these huge bills in the past say the Consumers Energy fine to the state doesn’t help their situation.

Consumers Energy claims they are doing everything they can to make it right with their customers. They are installing smart meters, and have raised their actual read rate. They will be under the close eye of Michigan Public Service Commission for the next three years. However, a customer who had to pay a hefty estimated bill price for their family budget said his trust in the company is lost for now.

“I’m glad they are getting fined. I don’t know what it does for any of their customers though,” said Jody Hill.

Hill is a Kalamazoo resident, and a father of three. He got an estimated bill of over $1,000 for just one month, more than five times higher than his usual $150 dollar bill. His bills are combined electric and gas.

He has since paid it off after some billing confusion between him and Consumers Energy, but when it happened it really put his family in a bad spot.

“It absolutely ruined 3 months of my life basically. That’s how much that money cost me. It put three months of my life on hold,” said Hill.

Hill made huge sacrifices to keep his power on and said he was never able to connect  with a real person  instead lost in a maze of automated answering systems.

“I had to skip a mortgage payment which costs me a little bit of extra money. We’ve been eating food out of the freezer instead of fresh food,” said Hill.

When Hill heard the Michigan Public Service Commission was fining Consumers over billing violations, he hoped for relief.

“It all goes to the state. It’s not something that goes to customers and so that money goes into the general fund,” said Judy Palnau, the spokeswoman for the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The commission said customers like Hill should have and will be able to pay back their large bills in payments matching the number of months they were estimated, so if they were estimated for 16 months they will have 16 months to pay it back.

Consumers Energy told us that all situations will be handled on a case by case basis, and there will be no mass compensation.

The good news is that anyone who has Consumers Energy as their electric and gas provider: the company cannot pass the cost of the fines onto customers.

“In the past perhaps that was spread among all other customers so there will be a very close eye watching for that and making sure customers don’t pay for that,” said Palnau.

For customers like Hill who were slapped with unexpected large bill, trust is something you can’t buy with money.

“I don’t really trust them at all. I don’t have an option. I can’t change electric carriers. You can’t go to somebody else and say I’d like to buy electricity from you. You are forced to buy it.”

Consumers has installed 1 million smart meters, and plans to install a million more this year. They have improved their actual read rate by 97 percent.

The commission said they have also implemented the same restrictions for gas reading regulations as for electric so this doesn’t happen to gas customers.