April 15, 2014
Record-setting winter temperatures drove natural gas usage up across Michigan, leading to higher bills for utility customers as well as those served by alternative gas suppliers. This, despite DTE's natural gas rates being the lowest in a decade.
Due to an uptick in calls from concerned customers, DTE Energy is reminding them how natural gas is purchased on their behalf, and the options available through the Gas Customer Choice program.
Gas Customer Choice (GCC) is a voluntary program that allows customers to purchase their natural gas from alternative gas suppliers. DTE delivers the gas, reads meters, administers billing and responds to all emergencies and leaks in DTE's service area, even if a customer has another supplier. Since these GCC customers receive a DTE bill with the alternative gas supplier's name listed within it, they may not realize they've chosen another provider--not DTE--to supply their gas.
Alternative gas suppliers' rates are not regulated by the Michigan Public Service Commission. Utility companies, including DTE, are regulated and only charge customers what the company pays for natural gas. Unlike alternative suppliers, there is not a mark-up or profit margin earned on the gas DTE purchases.
DTE's April Gas Cost Recovery factor, which reflects the cost of natural gas, is $0.456/ccf. Given the rise in gas prices this winter, DTE expects its Gas Cost Recovery factor to rise to approximately $0.540/ccf this coming fall.
"We make a conscious effort to control costs and hold rates stable while always keeping our customers' best interests in mind," said Dan Brudzynski, vice president, DTE Gas Sales & Supply.
To keep rates low and relatively stable, DTE deploys a strategy that calls for buying natural gas far in advance of the winter and then storing significant quantities of gas during the summer months when demand is low. This kind of advanced planning helps to temper rates for gas customers.
Brudzynski said DTE Gas has been experiencing an increase in calls from natural gas customers who want to switch from their alternative gas suppliers back to DTE because of the utility's rates. When they call, DTE advises customers to contact their supplier to learn about cancellation rights and applicable fees.
This past March, the Michigan Public Service Commission issued an order calling for the creation of a Gas Choice price comparison website. Once developed and implemented, the centralized website should provide customers with the tools and resources they need to make an informed decision regarding their provider of natural gas.
While the centralized website is being developed, here are a few important tips for customers to remember when deciding whether to choose an alternative gas supplier:
- Alternative suppliers may contact customers directly regarding enrollment; however, customers should only share their account number if they are planning to enroll.
- If customers decide to switch from DTE to an alternative gas supplier, DTE will send a postcard to the customers acknowledging the change.
- A lock-in feature is available to prevent unwanted switching to a different supplier. There is no cost. To activate that feature, call DTE at 800-477-4747.
- Residential and small commercial customers who sign up with an alternative supplier have an unconditional 30-day cancellation right. After the 30 days, customers may still terminate their contracts early. However, there may be a fee to do so.
- The MPSC allows suppliers to assess an early termination fee. For residential contracts, the maximum early termination fee is $50 or $100, depending on the length of the contract. For small commercial contracts, the maximum early termination fee is $150 or $250, depending on the length of the contract.
- If customers decide to return to DTE, they must keep the utility as their natural gas supplier for 12 months.
More information about the Gas Customer Choice Program can be found at the following links:
About DTE Energy
DTE Energy (NYSE: DTE) is a Detroit-based diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide. Its operating units include an electric utility serving 2.1 million customers in Southeastern Michigan and a natural gas utility serving 1.2 million customers in Michigan. The DTE Energy portfolio also includes non-utility energy businesses focused on power and industrial projects and energy trading. Information about DTE Energy is available at dteenergy.com, twitter.com/dte_energy and facebook.com/dteenergy.
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