DTE Energy Shareholders Meeting Draws Protest From Labor, Environmental Groups

A coalition of dozens of nonprofit groups and people participating in the 99 Percent Spring campaign rallied in front of DTE Energy's shareholders meeting at the utility company's headquarters in Detroit Thursday morning. The gathering included representatives from the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the Alliance to Halt Fermi III.

"Basically these groups are rallying around the shareholder meeting hoping to persuade DTE shareholders to invest in clean energy jobs, instead of investing in a Fermi 3 [nuclear power] plant or continuing to power Michigan through coal," said Jessica Tramontana of Progress Michigan, another group participating in the action.

"They don't need either of these dirty coal plants or dirty nuclear power plants," said Brad van Guilder, a spokesman for the Sierra Club. Van Guilder said DTE should streamline its operations by closing some plants and making others more efficient while ramping up renewable energy efforts.

The Sierra Club also wants DTE to reconsider lobbying against environmental protection efforts, like a ballot initiative that would raise Michigan's renewable energy portfolio standard by requiring energy utilities to depend 25 percent on green technologies like wind and solar power by 2025. The state's current renewable energy goal is 10 percent by 2015.

Van Guilder said one protester had obtained a proxy from a DTE shareholder to participate in the meeting, but that person was turned away.

DTE Energy spokesman Alejandro Bodipo-Memba told The Huffington Post he knew of no shareholders with proper credentials being turned away from the meeting. He added DTE strongly opposes arbitrary targets for renewable energy.

"We believe the results of compliance with the 2015 goal -- including the impact on customer costs -- should be evaluated before requiring a significantly higher standard," he said.

The coalition has been organizing the rally since last fall, and the effort was aided by the participation of the 99 percent Spring Campaign, which held a similar action at a GE shareholders meeting in Detroit on April 25. The national campaign, organized nationwide by unions and faith organizations, is using the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement push for greater corporate accountability.

"We're very concerned that DTE isn't paying their fair share of taxes," said Ryan Bates, director of the Michigan Organizing Project, which is participating in the 99 Percent Spring. "And at a time when Michigan families are really struggling, they're raising their rates. We need DTE to be more accountable and responsible to the community."

Bodipo-Memba said DTE Energy complies with all tax laws and paid almost $1.5 billion in taxes from 2008 through 2011. He noted the Michigan Public Service Commission regulates rates for public utilities and that DTE's bills are on par with others around the country. He said the company usually raises its rates in order to comply with federal environmental improvement standards or to upgrade infrastructure.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misquoted Alejandro Bodipo-Memba as comparing DTE Energy's utility rates to other companies' rates. He said DTE's bills are similar to other utilities' bills.