Both of Michigan’s largest public utilities have halted non-pay energy shutoffs for low-income and senior customers for the next three weeks, citing concerns over the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan and the desire to relieve some stress for Michigan’s most vulnerable residents.
Consumers Energy and DTE Energy both made the announcements Saturday evening. The end to shutoffs for both companies will last at least through April 5, but both noted that the time frames could be adjusted based on the duration and severity of the outbreak.
Consumers Energy, based in Jackson, is Michigan’s largest energy provider with 6.7 million customers around the state. The company has suspended non-payment shutoffs for low-income and seniors customers “to help prevent the spread of this illness” and ensure that vulnerable customers “have the services they need during this state of emergency.”
A statement from the utility on Monday said the new action reflects the fact that “many of our customers are in a position where they are unable to work.”
As for senior citizens and qualified low-income customers already enrolled in Consumers’ Winter Protection Program, those dates have already been extended through May 3 to prevent against shutoffs during that time.
“As of December, we had 11,168 customers enrolled in the Winter Protection Program,” Consumers Energy spokesperson Katie Carey said, adding that the company also offers other programs such as the Shut Off Protection Plan that other customers may enroll in as well.
The Detroit-based DTE Energy is the state’s second-largest public utility, providing electricity to 2.2 million Michiganders and natural gas to 1.3 million. In a statement Saturday, the company announced that shutoffs over non-payment will be suspended for low-income eligible customers through April 5.
Customers at or below 200% of the federal poverty level qualify as low-income for DTE. A company spokesperson said about 110,000 of DTE’s customers fit this profile.
“In the face of this global coronavirus pandemic, we are on high alert to help those customers whose lives are being disrupted,” the utility’s public statement reads in part. “… We want every one of our customers to have energy, and to be warm and safe.”
Seniors, which DTE defines as customers aged 62 and older, will also be protected from utility shutoffs for an extended period of time. Like Consumers Energy, this will be through an extension of the company’s Winter Protection Plan, which prevents service shutoff and high utility payments for low-income customers and seniors during the annual heating season from Nov. 1 to March 31.
For that duration, although no specific payments are required, customers must pay a budgeted amount and are encouraged to pay something to avoid large payments once the WPP period ends.
The new measure will extend that program through May 3 for already-enrolled customers with no further action required on their part.
A DTE spokesperson said that as of Friday, about 127,000 of its customers currently qualify as seniors. Roughly 18,000 are low-income seniors.