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Consumers Energy responds to state probe looking into sky-high bills, delays

State regulators began investigating the utility following a series of 13 Help Team reports and hundreds of complaints.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — New details have come to light tied to a months-long investigation by the 13 Help Team investigation concerning bloated bills received by scores of Consumers Energy customers. 

Our reporting, in addition to the hundreds of complaints submitted to state utility regulators, prompted an investigation by the Michigan Public Service Utility Commission

We’re getting our first look at the response filed by Consumers Energy, which was submitted on time in compliance with the Commission’s request at the beginning of August.

In its submission, the company appeared to assume responsibility for issues experienced by customers during the at times chaotic transition to a newer meter type, amid Verizon Wireless' discontinuation of 3G service. The utility suggested that one of its suppliers shared a portion of the blame, however. 

The document—in excess of 80 pages in length – identifies a Washington-based technology firm as the utility’s meter vendor. Itron Inc. is referenced on 13 separate occasions in its first three pages, alleging:

“Itron failed to provide enough meters to fully replace the 3G inventory before the end of 2022 and also failed to provide an adequate number of meter reading staff.”

In its response, Consumers Energy claimed the resulting shortfall had left it with approximately 188,000 outdated meters to replace with newer 4G-compatible versions as of January 2023.

The utility went on to claim it “did not anticipate that these meters would result in estimated reads, since Itron was contractually obligated to perform manual meter reads until the 3G meters were exchanged.”

Suggesting that, in that capacity, the vendor had failed.

The utility, Consumers summarized, subsequently took several of its own steps after the deficit came to light in an effort to ease the ongoing transition.

The remaining meters—some 22,000 as of Aug. 4, according to its submission to state regulators—it explained, were due for replacement by the end of August.

We called Itron HQ in Washington state seeking comment and left a voicemail. No response had been received at the time of publication.

The 13 Help Team confronted regulators last month during a scheduled meeting of the Michigan Public Service Commission. The Commission chair then suggested the customers who had been overcharged would ‘be made whole.’

Regulators are expected to file a response in the probe by the end of September.

In total, we’ve helped get around $20,000 in bills returned to the viewers who requested the 13 Help Team’s assistance, likely much more for the customers who wouldn’t otherwise have been made aware.

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