News Story

Top Michigan Democrat blames DTE Energy for slow response to ice storm. Now what?

Will Rep. Abraham Aiyash’s criticism of Michigan energy giant translate into action?

Rep. Abraham Aiyash, the House Majority Leader in the Michigan Legislature, took DTE Energy to task last week over power outages caused by an ice storm. The Michigan Public Service Commission says the storm caused about 922,000 customers in Michigan to lose their power.

Aiyash, a Democrat from Hamtramck, tweeted Feb. 23: “As many across Michigan tonight are impacted by freezing temps and no power, remember that since 2010, DTE has raised rates by BILLIONS of dollars.”

He followed that message with another tweet, noting that DTE spends millions on politics, campaign contributions, and lobbying.

Yet Aiyash, his legislative colleagues and officials in the executive branch have the authority to fix the problem he called out.

Consumers Energy and DTE are the two regional monopolies approved by the Legislature to provide energy to Michigan. The energy companies do not have to worry about competition because their customers have no other options. The existence of government-approved monopolies means there are no competitive services to drive down prices or provide better service.

While legislators may complain about outages, they, along with the governor and Michigan Public Service Commission, are in control of the state’s energy supply.

Aiyash is the majority floor leader in the Michigan House. The public service commission is run by three members who are appointed by the governor. The current members were all appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and they are responsible for approving DTE and Consumers Energy’s recent rate hikes on residents. They also approved the companies’ plans to retire coal plants in favor of relying more on wind and solar energy.

The Legislature is responsible for setting up the framework in which the utilities and their regulators operate, says Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“The Mackinac Center has consistently pointed out how Michigan’s monopoly utilities receive the highest electricity rates in any of the Great Lakes states,” Hayes told CapCon.

Hayes says that opening up Michigan’s electric markets to competition would force the state’s utilities to bring their rates into line with the rates charged by utilities in neighboring states.

Aiyash did not respond to a request for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.