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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Michigan House Republicans Seek To Avert Utility Shutoff Notices

LANSING Michigan House Republicans say they have found a way to avert a potential major crisis this winter for low-income residents facing utility shutoff notices.

Rep. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee, said two bills will be introduced Wednesday that should ensure people have access to those emergency funds.

The Low-Income and Energy Efficiency Fund was put in doubt following a surprising Court of Appeals ruling this summer that found that legislation passed in 2009 indicated a desire by the Legislature that the fund continue to exist, but the massive 2008 energy reform law was stripped of any language regarding the fund.

It ruled that utilities can contribute to the fund, but the MPSC no longer has authority to add that contribution to a utility's rates.

The funds are blended at the state level and distributed to help those facing shut off notices. Despite a widely held belief that state law does not allow utilities to shut people off in the winter, that is not the case. About 130,000 residents from every county receive annual assistance from the funding.

Horn said a bill by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Holland) will be a supplemental appropriations bills to take $62 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding that had been carried over and transfer into the state's Emergency Relief Fund.

This is a one-time fix to get them through the winter, Horn said. In January, he said they will begin in earnest to find a long-term funding solution.

"We don't know what that's going to be yet," he said.

Since the ruling, the Public Service Commission has been directing the utilities to continue collecting funds in rates but to escrow them and wait for further instructions from the commission.

Horn said the second bill is his and it will seek to have utility ratepayers refunded the money that has been collected and put into that escrow account. It totals about $40 million, he said.

"(The commission) should not have asked for that to be collected," he said.

The commission is responsible for ordering refunds, but Horn said his bill will make sure the commission is clear on the Legislature's intent.

In a statement, House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) said, "Our plan is a comprehensive solution to protect low-income residents this winter and provide Michigan ratepayers with some much-needed relief on their utility bills. It's a budgetary and statutory fix that protects families, prioritizes spending and keeps costs down for Michigan's ratepayers."

This story was provided by Gongwer News Service. To subscribe, click on Gongwer.Com


Author: Staff Writer
Source: Gongwer News Service

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