MPSC commissioner comments about Low Income Energy Efficiency Fund
LIEEF provides $90 milion annual funding for energy efficiency in Michigan. Michigan Energy Options has run LIEEF programs for years. Recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals has issued a decision finding that "the administration of a LIEEF does not fall within the scope of the PSC's [Public Service Commission] general statutory powers.
Guest commentary: Without low income and energy efficiency fund, utility customers face dire heating season
Since 2002, the Michigan Public Service Commission has awarded more than $500 million from the Low Income and Energy Efficiency Fund to Michigan organizations to provide shut-off and other protections to low-income utility customers across the state.
But that fund -- which has helped thousands of Michigan utility customers keep their heat and lights on -- has been eliminated.
The Michigan Court of Appeals recently issued a decision finding that "the administration of a LIEEF does not fall within the scope of the PSC's general statutory powers."
The court based its decision on the fact that the Michigan Legislature omitted obsolete references to the fund in Public Act 286 of 2008, even though subsequent legislation referred to the fund and despite continued recognition by the Legislature that the LIEEF disburses approximately $90 million annually.
The MPSC is now working to determine how the elimination of this fund will affect its six pending utility rate cases related to the LIEEF. The first involves a $17.4-million contribution for the LIEEF in Consumers Energy's natural gas case, which must be decided by the MPSC by Aug. 13.
In addition, the MPSC will have to deal with the grants made for Fiscal Year 2012 that are slated to be distributed in October. This includes $62 million in grants already announced and $18 million in grants yet to be announced.
The well-known and respected organizations that have received millions of dollars in grant money from the LIEEF -- such as the Salvation Army, the Heat and Warmth Fund, Michigan Community Action Agencies, the Michigan Department of Human Services and others -- will soon have to turn away people who come to them for help with utility bills.
And innovative programs funded by the LIEEF -- such as the Low-Income Energy Affordability Demonstration Project, designed to help struggling families pay utility bills before they find themselves in a crisis -- will be halted.
Also looming on the horizon are drastic cuts to the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, administered in Michigan by the Department of Human Services.
The result will be unprecedented. Thousands of low-income utility customers -- some only recently considered low-income because of prolonged unemployment -- will have their utility service shut off just before the heating season without much recourse.
The MPSC is studying all possible legislative and appellate options and is awaiting comments from interested people, including public utilities whose uncollectables -- paid for by rate-payers -- are likely to increase drastically in the future.
MPSC will become public information available on the commission's Web site and subject to disclosure.
Orjiakor Isiogu is chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission.