Consumers Energy customers experience sticker shock

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VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. -- Several Consumers Energy customers in a rural area of Van Buren County are outraged after getting bills that they say are more than 13 times the normal charge.

“My bill went from $300 a month to $4,887 and I was like what the hell happened?” said Christina McCaid.

McCaid is only one of the three customers in her neighborhood that got bills that skyrocketed for the month of August.

Berry got an electric bill for nearly $500 this month, and her neighbor Jeff Boone, who lives alone, got one for more than $3,000, and her other neighbor, Christina McCaid, got hit with a nearly $5000 bill.

“Usually in the summer time, maybe $300, but never a $500 bill,” said Berry.

The neighbors say they can’t afford the high bills, and they wanted answers, so they called the Fox 17 Problem Solvers.

“I work full time right now, so, I guess I have to get a part-time job," said Dana Berry. "How else are we going to pay for them?”

Berry has lived in her home for 28 years, McCaid for five years, and Boone for 12 years, and they all say their bills are way too high. Consumers Energy believes the bills are not a mistake but a game of catch-up.

“During some periods of time, especially in rural areas where roads are bad and visibility is awful during winter months, we estimate our meter reads on previous years' use of our customers,” said Consumers spokesperson Dennis McKee. "Sometimes, if there are dogs in the yard, we may estimate meter reads too."

In other words, if Consumers Energy underestimates a customer's usage use in the past and didn't make it to their house to get the actual reading, they estimate usage. Then at a later date when they get the actual usage, they tack the charges onto the bill.

McCaid, Berry, and Boone aren’t satisfied with that answer.

“It would be easier to come up with an extra $10 to $30 at the time, rather than $2,000 at the end of the year all at once,” said Boone.

Last August, McCaid’s bill was almost $300, but this year it's nearly $5000. Consumers told her on the phone that it was because she hadn't had an actual reading in omewhere between 14 and 24 months,mnMcCaid said.

“I mean, all of them estimated? All of them? All three of us? I just don't believe it. I don't,” said Berry.

McKee said the utility is working hard to resolve these kinds of issues for good. They’ve already replaced 610,000 old meters with smart meters. “In the area of Van Buren County, we have upgraded our meters to communicating meters, so we are already getting those daily reads from meters. This will help us get away from estimated meter reads,” said McKee.

“What really irritates me is that Consumers Energy can't come out and read my damn meter, but you can get out of the car and change the damn meter. You know what I’m saying? It really burns me to no end,” said Berry to McKee.

McKee said Consumers Energy is looking into why the bills are so high. Meanwhile, they're offering a payment plan to the neighbors and.

Consumers hopes to have all its in Michigan meters changed to smart meters by 2017. The smart meter actually sends usage like a text message to the utility daily, so they constantly know how much energy their customers are using.

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41 comments

  • Kevin Rahe

    Ridiculous that you have to pay a one-time $70 fee plus $10/month just to keep Consumers Energy from storing detailed data in an identifiable fashion that is not needed to bill you but that can be used by someone else to identify your comings and goings and discern other aspects of your lifestyle.

  • Cindy J wilson

    READ your own meter.. send the numbers into company.. I got hit last yr with a $900 bill from Consumers.. I called and asked what was going on.. I got told Do you have dogs? Yes.. But the dogs are inside the house not outside.. Just stupid shit, because someone doesn’t want to do their job..I have watched the meter reader sit in the car and use binoculars to read my meter. Hell, my house isn’t 50ft off the road.. They can shove the smart meters up their ass.

  • Bobbie

    I have a feeling this “not reading the meter” is my problem too. My bill this month is almost $500. Four months ago our household was cut from four people to two. And we use WAY less energy I know for sure. There used to be two tvs and computer running at all times. Not to mention a heart monitor and other little stuff. But now the TV is never on there is one computer and no lights on all day…less wash…everything’s basically off all day….but my bill has not changed at all

  • Davis P.

    If you estimate my meter in order to charge me for a month of electricity use, and your estimate is low, that should be on YOU, not on me. Guessing is not an advisable business practice, and if you engage in it, you should be the one to bear the cost when it doesn’t go well, not the individual customer whose bill you guessed wrong on.

    Out of curiosity, where are the refund checks for those people who Consumers estimated high on? Oh yeah, right…they just pocket that money, I forgot. CROOKS!

    Where is the Attorney General in all of this? Why is Consumers not being investigated by the state? Why are we not looking at state-wide competition in the energy market? Local co-ops like Great Lakes Energy are doing incredibly well for their customers, and at cheaper rates than Consumers. Why can’t we encourage places like that to operate state-wide and give people a choice of who they want to provide their electricity? Why do we have to remain at the mercy of these gouging monuments to days of monolithic business past? If Michigan is to ever move into the 21st century it is going to have to shed relics like Consumers.

  • Michelle

    Ever since we received one of their “smart” meters, my electric bill has been double. They need to get their shit figured out and quit giving lame EXCUSES.

  • karly k

    I just want to point out 2 things here I live in an area where it’s paved etc. and I have literally witness Consumers meter readers pull 1/2 way in my drive NOT get out of the vehicle write something down and drive over to the next neighbors house and do the same. And secondly –Consumers is getting ready to put new meters in to all their consumers–WHOM do you think is paying for this–US/THE consumer.

  • melissa

    We received our first bill with the so called smart reader and it was double what it normally is and is still and estimate if the have the data why are we still getting estimates? And its not even close to what are meeter reads

  • Patricia Burke

    Why are the bills not reconciled before the meters are installed? Also, those who receive non-transmitting meters in Massachusetts are billed for a manual reading every month even though the utility is allowed to estimate the bills, and those individuals may be receiving high estimates, but it may be difficult to track because the rates went up so much, in part to pay for things like adding wireless sensors on to the grid which have never been proven safe for human health and the environment.

  • beverly

    I really do believe that someone is messing with the system. I live on a dead end road. Never had a problem with consumer not coming out and reading my meter. Who is to say that this new meter isn’t going to have problems in the future. Like a chip malfunctioning or burning out. All these meter readers are now out of a job. Way to go Consumer.

  • mary

    I report my meter reads every month …Google: stop smart meter in Michigan…check to see if you have an analog or a new smart meter…people have reported bills skyrocketing after a new smart meter was installed on their house…you can opt out of the smart meter before they switch them for a one time fee and an additional $9+ fee for someone to come out and read it.I believe you can request the smart meter be removed but again there is a fee to do so…STOP SMART METERS IN MICHIGAN

    • Kevin Rahe

      I opted out not because I didn’t want a smart meter but because I didn’t want CP storing detailed data about my family’s lifestyle and comings and goings that it doesn’t need to bill me, then have someone come in and steal it and exploit it. Maybe I’ve benefited in other ways, too.

    • Kevin Rahe

      If it is true that a lot of people’s bills go up once they get a smart meter installed, then an interesting aspect of that is that the price per KwH as determined by the MPSC should eventually go down. The MPSC is supposed to set rates such that utilities recoup their costs and make a reasonable profit. If they suddenly start making exorbitant profits because they’re recording more KwH’s, than they were before, then the MPSC should adjust their price down.

  • Smart Meter Education Network

    The time period Consumers wasn’t reading the meter was 14 to 24 months. Dennis McKee cited “dogs in the yard” and “poor visibility” as excuses. Really?! For two years there’s been poor visibility. On top of that the gas meters were read regularly. It’s clear to us that the real reason is that Consumers Energy has another selling point for smart meters. Ticking off a few low-income customers is a small price for the utility to pay when they can bend the ear of the legislators on why smart meters are so necessary. Dennis McKee, the Consumers Energy spokesman, was his usual suave, salesmanly self, intoning with great resonance that Consumers is dealing with these problems by changing analog meters to smart meters. The newscasters said, “Well, you can look at your bill and see whether it says ‘actual’ read or ‘estimated’ read. I know full well that is untrue. I have received a number of bills that have said “actual” when they were not. How do I know? I called the company when my next bill was higher than normal, and they said, “That’s because your last read was estimated.” When I told them it said it was an actual read, they reiterated that in fact was not an actual read.

    • Ashley

      I have received “actual” reads for 9 years….but this year for may and june they were estimated. ..my july bill was over $1000!!!
      I called and asked why for 8 years I received actual reads i would get estimated. …they said a dog was in my yard…..I HAVE NO DOG….

  • smartmetereducation

    Consumers Energy isn’t bothering to tell customers they can keep their analog meter if they opt out. They are trying to force smart meters on everyone. The digital opt-out meters are as harmful to your health as the regular smart meter and, just like the smart meter, store detailed usage data. Anyone who wants to fight Consumers Energy on the smart meters, get in touch with the Smart Meter Education Network. The claim that the meters “transmit” once a day is a pseudo-claim. They communicate with each other constantly; once a day they send a reading to the utility.

  • Kelsey

    This happened to me as well, and because of it I was evicted from my home my will was 100 every month and then they started charging me almost 3 hundred. When my taxes came back I paid it off, but then they did it to me again and within 2 months my bill was over a thousand dollars and I only made 7.45 an lived alone so I just couldn’t pay it.

  • Ashley

    This is outrageous! This is happening to me!!! I live in the city of Kalamazoo. … For 8 years we had an “actual” read … in July we received a bill for over $1000!! I immediately called..knowing that was wrong….but Consumers said the May and June bills had been estimated. ..so the bill was so high because they underestimated. …. I asked why they were estimated…… the meter reader wrote that I had a dog in my yard. …I have NO DOG!!! They then tried to offer me the payment plan…..I told them no way!!! I then told them I would rather them OVER estimate my bill so then they would owe me… but their ‘formula’ in the system wont do that….HA!….They are the only energy supplier. … I feel stuck…. my energy bills have never been so high… I thankfully still have my anolog reader…but after reading the stop smart meter info it seems crazy the amount of work/records I have to do to keep my anolog ….. I just want affordable energy with an honest company….. it shouldn’t be so hard…

  • Cheryl Lockyer

    I’m from Hastings mi. I too got scammed. Consumers said they didn’t read my meter for a year. Within that year we kept calling then asking if our bill was accurate. They said Yes because we overpaid the year before. Then they nailed me with a1500 dollar bill. Consumers is lying and covering. Now I get to pay late fees to them. They should not be allowed to do this

  • Barb Strickfaden

    I had the same thing.Called several times when I first got huge bill, Nothing,called again and was told they would send someone to check and tell me where the electric went.To high bills then a $61 and yesterday $57 and still know answer.I’m a senior.Been in my new home 13 years and never high bills.>They told me the same thing estimated bills and I told them I had my bills and only one was estimated. Never heard a thing.

  • Michelle

    This is the same thing that happened to me and I live in flint so that is not an excuse for consumers. My bill all winter long never went over 300 dollars then they ask to come in my yard for the first time in 6 years and my bill goes from being 259 dollars to almost a 1, 000 dollars in one month. Consumers told me no one has read my meter in over 3 years. That I should have it paid off in no time and hung up on me. ….

  • Jeff hunter

    im in battle creek going threw same problem I’m disabled always home they send me a card to do there job my once a year reading was over $600 when they did read it it was wrong then the following month a$540 bill they finally got it right then last week $285 I called and was on hold so put my number in for call back .they called me back and I was on hold for another 45 min and my bill was $135 cheaper than there estimated bill it’s crazy

  • Customer

    Most of the residential meters are being changed out by a contracted company called Corix. My main question would be whether or not they have a correct “OFF” read when they remove the old meter. Once removed it never gets looked at again. Also the kWh usage is the (3)read on your meter… There are many other numbers for future use such as on peak /off peak and demand information, which even if you get a consumers meter reader out to read it they need to be reading that 3 read for your monthly usage.
    People really need to complain to the MPSC. My complaint would be why if rates have already been built in for Meter Readers to read meters, why are they wanting to charge a monthly fee again on top of the rates I’ve already been paying for the last 25 years.

  • Laura Armstrong

    I just had this shocking experience with consumers energy. Started renting in june,thought I was fortunate to have such an energy efficient home! Newly divorced, four children trying to make ends meet. Consumers Energy was more then happy to set up a payment plan of 240.00 per month for the next year,that I cant afford :-[

  • Dwayne

    fox “solved” nothing, the smart meters should be the real subject of investigation. Smart meters are not a good thing. (more info at michiganstopsmartmeters com)
    The fees (one time 96.00, 8.00 monthly) for keeping your old meter and service are unethical, we have to foot the bill for the new meters (price increases) AND the old one?
    Why didn’t consumers energy service the customers for over 2 years when they paid their bill every month?
    Why doesn’t consumers have to pay interest on meters over estimated? better yet why are there no criminal charges for charging people for something they didn’t receive?
    Hey, Fox solvers, how about getting real answers and real solutions instead of a terrible plug for smart meters that will violate our constitutional rights (4th amendment).

  • Rebecca Wemple

    I live in Hesperia and they put on a smart meter back in march. I haven’t had an actual read in all those months. I have lived here 21yrs and never had a bill over $300. Just received one for $400. I have called them about the estimated bills 3 times now and they always say its because of dogs in yard. our dogs are never out alone. They said they would look into it and call me back, haven’t received call back yet. We live on a fixed income and can’t afford to pay $400 a month for electric.

  • Benjamin Kors

    Legally they are not allowed to estimate your bill like that. They have to allow you the same amount of months as what was estimated for payment.
    https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mpsc/mpsc-ca_estimatedbills_211884_7.pdf
    Look at item three under billing rules.
    When a bill is estimated for 2 or more consecutive months, the customer must be given the same
    number of months to pay the bill when an actual reading is obtained. However, the customer must
    provide access to the meter or provide a reading if requested by the utility.

  • LINDA S. JOHNSON

    WHAT REALLY GRINDS ME , IS YOU CAN’T TALK TO A HUMAN BEING , ABOUT ANYTHING…WHEN YOU CALL , IT;S PUSH THIS BUTTON , ENTER THIS CODE , THEN IT USUALLY HANGS UP ON YOU. CERTAINLY DON’T GET ANYTHING RESOLVED , THAT WAY. I GOT MY BILL , AND SOME HOW , ALMOST $1,OOO IN CREDITS CAME DOWN TO A LITTLE OVER $100. I’D LIKE TO KNOW WHERE ALL OUR MONEY WENT!!! SINCERELY , LINDA S. JOHNSON

  • loraine gunderson

    My bill has doubled and I pulled up a 3 year history. I live on disability. This seems unlawful I was never given a choice to get a smart meter and have no idea how it works or why I have such a high bill I mostly heat with wood, I have a gas cook stove and effecient appliances. I won’t have food money after I pay this bill

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