Probe into Consumers estimated billing launched

Posted at 8:00 AM, Jan 29, 2016

"It's a shock," Consumers Energy customer Connie Kapugia said of opening a bill she expected to be around $400. "Their estimate came in at $1,500."

The utility was estimating her energy usage. She says they told her they couldn't read her meter because she had a dog that could have been outside.

"Estimates that are so out of line with actual usage that it's caused financial stress on me, and I have to constantly watch my bills," Kapugia said.

Consumers Energy says it tries to get a read on every meter, but sometimes getting to the meter would put an employee in a dangerous situation.

"We strive to get actual reads every month on customer's meters, but there are instances where we may not be able to do that. There could be threats of violence at the account, there could be dangerous dogs, and even severe cold weather may prevent us from going out there because we do not want to put our employees' safety at risk," Terry DeDoes, Public Information Director for Consumers Energy, said.

Instead, the company uses weather and past usage to estimate a bill from time to time. When an employee actually reads the meter, if the company has been underestimating, the customer has to make up the sometimes huge difference on the next bill.

The Michigan Public Service Commission is investigating if Consumers is doing it too often, and if its formula for estimation needs tweaking.

"The number of complaints that we're hearing from people leads the commission to believe things could be done to improve the situation," Judy Palnau of the Commission said.

Consumers Energy says it is rolling out smart meters, which don't need employees to read them, to remedy the problem. The 1.8 million meters it is installing should be in by the end of 2017.

If you receive an unusually high bill after months of estimated bills, you have at least as many months as the utility was estimating your bill to pay the new one.