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AG Nessel Letter to MPSC Urging Investigation of DTE Energy’s eBill Program Results in Corporate Apology, Policy Reversal
October 13, 2023
LANSING – Yesterday, in response to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request of the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to investigate DTE Energy’s eBill program for unjust financial harm and hardship to consumers, the utility corporation announced a reversal of policy and publicly apologized to affected consumers.
“I appreciate that DTE responded promptly to the specter of a regulatory investigation into this obvious issue, after I alerted them to the potential harm to consumers last week,” Nessel said. “My office strives to protect consumer pocketbooks and to ensure that customers are treated fairly. This was an unfair practice that piled late fees and shutoff notices onto unsuspecting gas and electricity customers just as the weather began to turn in Michigan, and it was appropriate for DTE to apologize and reverse course.”
Attorney General Nessel authored a letter last week asking the MPSC Chair to investigate DTE Energy’s eBill program, as well as any other utilities’ similar program across the state, that automatically enrolled their customers in DTE’s paperless billing program without any affirmative consent by the customer. As noted in the AG’s letter, it appears that customers who had shared their emails with DTE for other reasons may have received an email notifying them that they had been selected for an eBill trial. Unfortunately, the utility company automatically enrolled the customers into the eBill program if they didn’t affirmatively opt out of the program. The opt out language is at the bottom of the unsolicited e-mail, and thus likely not to be read by the customer.
Paperless billing without consent may cause a problem for customers who had previously opted-in to paper billing and are unaware that the utility made this change. As a result, the customer is at risk of delinquency and may be subject to late fees and shut off notices.
Yesterday, about one week later, DTE Energy issued a public apology for their treatment of customers through their eBill program and pledged to end the automatic enrollment of customers in paperless billing under this trial. DTE Energy also pledged to credit customers, who were automatically enrolled this way, for any late fees as a result of this transition to paperless billing.
DTE Energy’s announcement reaffirmed that the problem with automatic enrollment in paperless billing without consent is that the consumer might not be aware that they are no longer going to receive a paper bill. As a result, the customer might not pay their bill timely and be subject to late fees and shut off notices.
The Attorney General’s request for an investigation into this practice employed by DTE Energy and any other utility companies in the state engaged in such a practice, stands as requested.