Consumers Energy testifies about higher energy bills

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LANSING, MI -- A house committee heard testimony from Consumers Energy and their customers Wednesday in downtown Lansing.

Not only did customers want to know if there's something else going on with their bills other than what the utility company is saying, but they were also upset with how the company is handling their complaints.

Consumers Energy held firm under questioning by the Michigan Energy Policy Committee saying colder weather and a longer billing cycle were the primary reasons for above-average energy use, but what wasn't above-average -- they said-- were the calls of complaints this year compared to last.

"Over the last several weeks, we have taken calls from our customers about high bills, but we note that it's less calls then we've taken historically," said Lauren Youngdahl-Snyder, the VP for Customer Experience at Consumers Energy.

In an interview Monday with a company spokesman, News Ten was told the number of calls had actually increased this year compared to last. After checking back with him Wednesday, he said he didn't have all of the numbers available at the time of his statement.

Rep. Gary Glenn, the Committee Chairman had an alternate theory.

"Maybe they're using alternate ways of expressing their frustration because they feel helpless, and they have not had the glowing experience contacting customer service that of course you would want us to believe is the case," Glenn said.

"Our biggest complaint is the fact that they say just call, we called four times and got no results," said Carolyn Tyrell, a resident of Morris. Her bills went up substantially, paired with the lack of a swift response.

"My deep feeling is they're not working with consumers the way they say they are to help them resolve....What can we fix to get rid of this because this is astronomical and many people; we're on social security. Our income on the farm is zilch."

The company also defended the accuracy of their smart meters.

"We're very confident with the accuracy of the smart meters. We feel confident on that being a tool that will really increase the flexibility for our customers," said Amy Walt, Executive Director for Customer Operations for Consumers Energy.

Consumers said each home should be looked at on a case by case basis.

"We want to help them. We really encourage all customers who are struggling right now to call us," Youngdahl-Snyder said.

In a statement after the hearing, Glenn said he will continue to delve into the higher bills.