New 99 Cent Charge Appears on Utility Bills

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It's a 99 cent charge you can find on every Consumer's Energy bill.

"We have heard from some customers who are concerned and curious about this charge," said Whitney Skeans, Customer Assistance Coordinator for Consumer's Energy.

The new line on customer's bills showed on up September. and the money, about 12 dollars a year for most customers, It goes to the Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund, The fund is part of an effort the legislature and utility companies to streamline the process for acquiring energy assistance.

Here's how it works. Utility companies can choose whether or not to participate in the fund. If they choose not to. they must agree not to shut any customer between November 1st and April 15th. The biggest energy suppliers. DTA and Consumer's opted in. Some smaller ones like the Lansing Board of Water and Light chose not to. So, if you're a customer whose energy provider did choose to participate this year, your monthly contribution goes into a pool of fifty million dollars the state sets aside for the fund.

"Federal funds, which are separate from this, have shrunk dramatically in the last few years, but the need has not," said Judy Palnau, Michigan Public Service Commission.

And for the first time in Michigan law, utility companies and non-profits that provide assistance for those people in need are required to help customers become self-sufficient.

"In the past, they had to wait for a shut off notice. And that often caused the bill to become much higher, and addressing that bill to become a greater, much more complicated process," said Skeans.

Consumer's Energy says they won't know how well this new process is working until later this winter. The Michigan Public Service Commission will re-calculate the funding factor on a yearly basis. If more utility companies agree to participate, the 99 cent fee could go down.

Consumer's Energy has also developed a program called care- The Consumers Affordable Resource for Energy. Low-income customers can apply for a 40 percent bill credit through August of 2014. This is the first year for the program. You must apply by the end of January.