DTE Energy, Consumers Energy Must Refund Heating Assistance Surcharges

Michigan residents should expect a bonus on upcoming energy bills as a result of a Tuesday ruling by the Michigan Public Service Commission on a now defunct energy assistance plan for low-income customers.

The ruling by the three-person commission requires DTE Energy, Michigan Consolidated Gas Company (MichCon) and Consumers Energy to refund to their customers a combined $56.3 million that was collected for the state's Low-Income and Energy Efficiency Fund (LIEEF).

The utility companies funded the program through a surcharge on customers' energy bills. But LIEEF was discontinued last year, when the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the program's administration did not fall under the commission's statutory powers, and the funds were put into an escrow account.

According to the decision, DTE Energy must refund $27.3 million, Mich Con must refund $3.6 million and Consumers Energy must refund $25.4 million.

DTE Energy spokesman Alejandro Bodipo-Memba said customers will receive their refunds in the form of credits to future bills, but added that specific dates have not yet been determined.

Bodipo-Memba said the company is concerned that the scrapping of LIEEF and recent cuts to the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) may mean some customers will be unable to pay their winter heating bills.

"DTE supports the notion of energy assistance. It's a necessary thing," he said. "Without the funds, there isn't going to be assistance available to meet the needs of many seniors and for many of our low-income customers."

The state put a temporary relief fund in place when LIEEF expired, and according to the Detroit Free Press, Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed $60 million for heating assistance in his 2013 budget.