DTE, show us the data! Why cities need info to plan for climate change
By Beth Gibbons
First, the good news: Congress has approved more than $1.5 trillion for much-needed climate and infrastructure projects over the last year. Some of the biggest winners in this legislation are electric and gas utilities, including DTE Energy.
The bad news? DTE has failed to show that it will step up and support a just and climate-resilient future. The utility’s pursuit of a rate hike — which will increase investor profits at a cost of $388 million for Michigan families — is the latest offense, but far from the first.
Consider DTE’s atrocious track record of service, which is acutely felt by communities with the highest energy burdens. Or consider its proposal to reduce solar buy-back rates further and introduce punishing fees assessed against those individuals trying to move off its dirty and unreliable grid.
Here’s one more: DTE’s unwillingness to share information, cities and towns need to start climate action planning.
Assessing a community’s carbon emissions is the first step in developing a climate action plan — something every community needs if we are going to limit global warming and save people from being harmed by climate impacts such as floods, extreme heat, and drought.
But, across the state, action on climate change has slowed to a crawl as jurisdictions wait for DTE to turn over requested data. Currently, DTE has over 80 such requests. As a team member writing Washtenaw County’s plan, I can report that we waited eight months for a response to our request. Other colleagues have waited equally as long only to have some of the requested information denied. In one case, DTE refused to disclose data on neighborhood-level electricity service restoration times. I wonder why DTE wouldn’t want to share that piece of information?
DTE claims there are legitimate reasons for denying these requests. Customer privacy is often cited, along with vaguely ominous statements about “homeland security concerns.” But by now, the utility should recognize that holding an energy monopoly also comes with obligations to the people shackled to it. The burden of “making the right request” should not be constantly placed on the community trying to get started on its climate planning.
DTE needs to work with communities, consultants, and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy to develop standardized data releases at the jurisdiction level for climate planning and reporting purposes.
It must also update its service infrastructure to minimize the community’s energy burden and incentivize its customers’ solar use. Only then will it make any real progress toward its stated aspiration of being “the best-operated energy company in North America and a force for growth and prosperity in the communities where we live and serve.”
DTE, and other utilities like it, will be receiving billions of dollars from the federal government and in increased electricity revenues from residential and commercial customers taking advantage of federal incentives to electrify in the coming years.
It’s time for this company to play its part by building an efficient and transparent system for putting needed emission data into customers’ hands and helping kick climate inaction across the state back into action.
Beth Gibbons is a Public Voices fellow with The OpEd Project in cooperation with the Yale School of Climate Change Communication and an author of the Midwest Chapter of the National Climate Assessment. From 2016–2022 she served as the executive director of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals.