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'Where am I going to get this money?': More Consumers Energy customers concerned after receiving bills they can't pay

The complaints came amid an ongoing investigation into the utility's billing practices and meter transition by the MPSC.

NORTON SHORES, Mich. — Continued trouble for a number of Consumers Energy customers who recently received abnormally large bills.

An investigation by the 13 Help Team, ongoing for several months, prompted dozens of customers to come forward, relaying a host of concerns with regard to the utility’s billing practices.

The issues stemmed from its transition to modern electricity meters, which utilize 4G and 5G networks in place of the older 3G system.

As of last month, the utility revealed some 90,000 of the affected units had yet to be replaced.

The 13 HELP Team’s involvement had, at the time of publication, resulted in the recovery of thousands of dollars in related charges.

A Norton Shores woman who approached 13 ON YOUR SIDE with a bill more than ten times what she’d paid in past months had her issues resolved within hours of contacting us.

“I think it's very unfair, because your equipment’s faulty,” Theresa Robinson related. “It went on for so many months. Why didn't I get a heads up?”

A heads-up Robinson noted would have allowed her to set money aside instead of struggling to keep the lights on.

“Did you ever receive any kind of communication from them,” we asked. Consumers Energy, on several occasions, indicated it had notified customers affected by the transition.

“Not at all… Nothing whatsoever until I received this bill,” she replied. “Yeah, I think it's horrible to do that to people.”

Leaving her, like the others, feeling a combination of sticker shock and disbelief. 

“I can't believe that. They expect you--I mean, what am I supposed to do go without electricity,” Robinson questioned. “I mean, where am I going to get this money?”

Questioning why, given the more manageable bills she’d received in the past…

After all, the Norton Shores woman lives a modest life in the small home she purchased after moving back to Michigan.

Around two years since Robinson’s husband passed away, she’s also living on a fixed income, meaning her dollars have to stretch even in a normal month without any unexpected expenses. 

“A bill in the amount of $693,” she read from the most recent invoice she’d received from Consumers Energy. “The previous meter wasn't giving accurate readings. So this is the number they came up with.”

It’s become a familiar scenario.

Amid the transition, Robinson, like the others, had been receiving estimates instead of actual reads.

The spike in energy usage coincided with what appeared to have been the first actual reading since February.

She then called the utility’s customer service department, hanging up the phone, Robinson related, empty-handed, without the relief she needed, only a payment plan Robinson said she couldn’t afford either.

It was a result that, to her, hardly seemed fair.

“I don't understand why, if your equipment was faulty, why should be responsible,” she said. “Because this is a tremendous amount of money. And I can't afford it.”

About a half hour after 13 ON YOUR SIDE looped in Consumers Energy to Robinson's problem, she called us back and said Consumers Energy gave her account a $500 credit and an apology. 

Consumers Energy, in response to an inquiry submitted by 13OYS, referenced an active investigation into several of the practices in question by the Michigan Public Service Commission when it relayed the following via an emailed statement Tuesday:

“Due to privacy rules, Consumers Energy is prevented from discussing publicly details about customer’s accounts and is working directly with the customer to resolve their questions and concerns.

We understand how frustrating it can be to receive a bill that is much higher than expected. Consumers Energy is committed to doing right by its customers and improving our performance and communications.

We are cooperating with the Michigan Public Service Commission on the meter investigation and are focused on delivering the service our customers and the MPSC expect.”

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